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Diamond Shape

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Diamond Shape

Artist: Ilya Bolotowsky (American, 1907 - 1981)

Date: 1952
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 42 1/2 x 42 1/2in. (108 x 108cm)
Signed: Lower right: 'Ilya Bolotowsky / 1952'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 53.440
Text Entries

Russian-born Ilya Bolotowsky came to the United States in 1923 as a young man of sixteen. In 1936 he took an active role in founding the American Abstract Artists group which drew together a generation of abstract and nonobjective painters and sculptors; many of them lived in New York City and worked on various divisions of the WPA Federal Art Project. (1) Bolotowsky’s earliest abstract paintings derive from Russian Constructivism combined with biomorphic Surrealist elements, and they are characterized by a unique and complex use of color.

During Bolotowsky’s more than forty-year career as one of America’s most distinguished nonobjective painters his style was often identified with that of the modern European master Piet Mondrian. While several other gifted American artists, among these Charles Biederman, Burgoyne Diller, Fritz Glarner, and Harry Holtzman, continued to work within and expand the visual vocabulary of Neoplasticism, Bolotowsky understood the art of Mondrian as a starting point for his own carefully considered sometimes dramatic deviations.

Bolotowsky’s Diamond Shape of 1952 is related in form and spirit to Mondrian’s innovative compositions of 1940-44 painted in New York City. Mondrian’s last and un-finished painting, Victory Boogie-Woogie (1944), was created within a diamond format, which is a symmetrical variant of the square, retaining a ninety-degree horizontal and vertical orientation within its boundaries. The diamond format combines the twin virtues of stability and dynamism, hallmarks of the Neoplastic program.(2)

In Bolotowsky’s Diamond Shape, alternating open and broad, then tightly integrated passages create a dramatic counterpoint. His unusual secondary colors, tones of greenish-tan, blue-gray, and mauve exist at the edges of the composition, while areas of vivid highly saturated red and sharply defined black act as architectonic supports and focal points for stability and dramatic emphasis. Partly sensuous although primarily architectonic, Bolotowsky’s paintings of the 1950s are among his most admired and original. They exhibit the calm and broadly defined openness that he found in Neoplasticism, yet they also surprise and delight through their unusual rhythms of shape, interval, and color.

The Utica picture, painted in 1952, was created during a highly productive period in Bolotowsky’s career. Following a two-year tenure as Instructor of painting and then Acting Head of the Art Department at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1946 to 1948, Bolotowsky and his family moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where he served as Associate Professor of Art from 1948 to 1957. Living and working far from the New York art world he had known as a young man, Bolotowsky’s art became more distinctive and personal as he probed the structural and expressive possibilities of Neoplasticism. Vacation periods were generally spent in New York and his work continued to be seen and exhibited there on a regular basis. Bolotowsky’s hard-edged, nonobjective style of the 1950s stood in sharp contrast to the art of the Abstract Expressionists, but he was recognized as an American predecessor of Minimalism when he returned to live in the New York area in 1957. He was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in 1974, and his long and productive career continued unabated until his death in 1981.



1. For the founding of the American Abstract Artists group see Susan C. Larsen, “The Quest for an American Abstract Tradition, 1927—1944,” Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America, 1927- 1944, exhibition catalog, ed. by John R. Lane and Susan C. Larsen (Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1983), pp. 36—37.

2. Further insights on Bolotowsky’s use of a diamond format appear in Adelyn D. Breeskin, Ilya Bolotowsky, exhibition catalog (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1974.), p. 10.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).