Sunday, April 08, 2007

In a Trailer With Marcel Breuer

[Read 'Modern,' our new modern house blog, here.]

When we went to see David Diao’s show (“Demolished/At Risk”) in Chelsea two years ago, we didn’t know that he had once been a Young Turk of the New York art world, as the Times called him not long ago in a review of a show, “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975,” at the National Academy Museum. We didn’t even think of him as a middle-aged Turk. We just knew him as an artist we ran into in 2003 at a modern house tour in Rye, and again in 2004 at the New Canaan Modern House Day, and then invited up to see our house a few months later, at which time we learned that in addition to living in the city, he owned a Breuer house in Dutchess County.

There’s a story about David in today’s Times (in what used to be the Westchester section), with no particular news hook but with an interesting short account of his life and with details of his Breuer house and his recent work:

Though Mr. Diao still has a loft in TriBeCa, he also has a house in Salt Point, Dutchess County, designed by Marcel Breuer. A strange union of high modern architecture and pop culture, the house is attached to an Airstream-like trailer. Called a Spartan Mansion, the trailer was manufactured by John Paul Getty, and has a streamlined refinement and attention to detail that isn’t often found in an Airstream. In the house, Breuer echoed the details of the “land yacht,” nautically splicing metal cables on the porch.

“I was not looking to buy a country house,” Mr. Diao said. “I am very much a city person. But when given a chance to own a piece of architecture by one of my own heroes — how could I resist? The place was a wreck, and I spent the better part of the next 10 years bringing it back. I became smitten by the brilliance of the original owner, Sidney Wolfson, on insisting that the trailer be part of the design.”

The house had an impact on Mr. Diao’s art. “Soon stories in and around modern architecture joined those behind modern art and became fodder for my paintings,” Mr. Diao said.

“Endangered Species 2” (2004), a map of modern houses in New Canaan, Conn., has a corresponding key showing those houses that have been demolished and those that are at risk. (The destruction of a Paul Rudolph house in Westport, Conn., in January brings home this sense of loss with immediacy.) And in “Sitting in the Glass House” (2003), Mr. Diao sits and reads a newspaper in Philip Johnson’s famous New Canaan house….

We think of the Glass House with such reverence, and yet David Diao managed to befriend the caretaker and then convince him to let him be photographed sitting inside reading a paper. The piece (it seemed to be a combination photograph and painting) was funny and iconoclastic.

The Breuer house is called the Wolfson Trailer House; here’s the website and here’s a link to a good photo.

Monday morning: It occured to me after I wrote this that one of the more interesting things in Times story was David's assertion that he hadn't seen the painting in the "High Times, Hard Times" show in 37 years. It's one of those facts of creative life that non-painters probably never realize: you paint a picture, somebody buys it or you give it away, and it's gone from your life. Writers of course can always go back and read their books (Jack London said re-reading his own stuff was the antidote to depression -- it was like giving himself a big hug, he said). Painters spend time and effort and creative energy making a picture, and (if they're lucky) it's gone.

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