Revisit Martha Diamond’s ‘Urbanist Art’ and Life on the Bowery Since 1969

Posted on: September 20th, 2021 at 5:03 am by

Martha Diamond

In case you missed Martha Diamond’s show at Magenta Plains on Allen Street back in January, the career-spanning exhibit at the Lower East Side gallery is now online.

For a limited time, visitors to independent.org online viewing room will gain access to not just the past exhibit, but also an overview of Diamond’s career. There’s a retrospective interview and video where Diamond discusses how the Bowery has influenced her art and how the neighborhood has changed over the 50-plus years she’s lived and worked there. She also discusses a seminal piece depicting the World Trade Center that was included in the 1989 Whitney Biennial.

Martha Diamond has referred to herself as a “primitive painter,” which speaks to her lack of formal education in painting techniques. And her painterly brushwork doesn’t immediately seem conducive to cityscapes or skylines, but her depictions of the metropolis over the years has accumulated into a body of work many now consider “urbanist art.”

But regardless of the label or the decade, the lasting allure of Diamond’s paintings is that it is as universal as it is New York-centric. That the buildings depicted are as intimate as they are monolithic, and her work speaks to an idea of a city that’s higher than the debate over past versus present.

Here is an excerpt from that interview:

DC: I knew an artist, Harvey Quaytman, who lived on your street. When I knew him in the 1980s, the Bowery was close to Soho, but it felt so far away. Now, of course, it’s changed completely; the Bowery’s just another gentrified neighborhood.

MD: It was different, then. I mean, the humans were different; the doorways were different; the cars were different

In another interview with ART FORUM,
Diamond said that she spent the Covid shutdown “lifting weights on her roof and making paintings of Stuyvesant Town, where my family once lived when I was young.”

Despite massive changes to the city and her downtown neighborhood, there’s a childlike inquiry in Diamond’s work that persists and reflects how the artist remains a constant fixture in a neighborhood where her work continues to inform the public as well as a new generation of artists.

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