Group Shows

The art of the diagram

Marlborough Gallery: Schema: World as Diagram, 2023, Installation View 01

Contributed by David Carrier / Raphael Rubinstein, who co-curated “Schema: World as Diagram” at Marlborough with Heather Bause Rubinstein, observes in the catalogue that diagrams are important because they sometimes have much greater explanatory power then words. Rather than tell someone directions, which can be tricky, it might be better to draw a diagram. With work by more than fifty artists on two floors, “Schema” presents an extraordinarily full history of this form, reflecting how a diverse range of artists have collectively created and responded to an aesthetic tradition. Using diagrams, of course, is no guarantee of making sense. Indeed, in its preoccupation with thorough description as opposed to subtle evocation, it might suggest lonely, ruminative souls without audiences. But diagrams can also be a rich way of communicating, and this show focuses on that capacity.

Shusaku Arakawa, Untitled, No. 1, 1969, acrylic, felt tip, pen, and pencil on canvas, 125 x 183.8 cm 49 3/16 x 72 3/8 inches
Janet Cohen, Estimating Space: 5-25-07, NY Mets at Florida, 9th inning, 2007, pencil on graph paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches
Loren Munk, The Ontology of Art, Study I, 2016. Oil on linen, 24 x 48 inches. Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Both famous artists and those not widely known are represented. Among the works are Shusaku Arakawa’s, untitled (1965), an enigmatic philosophical diagram; several pencil diagrams by Joseph Beuys; Janet Cohen’s Estimating Space: 5-25-07 N.Y. Mets at Florida, 9th inning (2007), charting a baseball game; Thomas Hirschhorn’s Schema: Art and Public Space ((2016–22); and Alfred Jensen’s Square XXI Growth (1968). Also included are Forrest Bess’s noted esoteric symbolism; Loren Munk’s diagrams of art theorizing in The Ontology of Art, Study 1 (2016); and, a surprising addition, Julian Schnabel’s Shoeshine (for Vittoria de Sica) (1976), which maps the staircase seen in an Italian movie. Mark Lombardi’s Hot Money – The Political Dimension/2nd Version (1997), in explaining financial transactions, is perhaps the most straightforwardly informational piece. While “Schema” focuses on Western artwork, it also features a group of anonymous Buddhist tantric paintings, similar to the tantric diagrams that informed African-American artist Charles Gaines’ critique of Eurocentricism, and a fascinating tribal Shirvan rug from the Caucasus.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Schema Art and Public Space, 2016-22, cardboard, paper, prints, ballpoint pen, felt, pen, plastic film, and tape, 47 1/4 x 78 3/4 in., 120 x 200 cm
Alfred Jensen, Square XXI Growth, 1968
Julian Schnabel, Shoeshine (for Vittorio De Sica), 1976, oil, wax, modeling paste on canvas, 120 x 120 inches
Mark Lombardi, Hot Money – The Political Dimension, 2nd Version, 1997. Pencil on paper, 24 1/2 x 48 1/4 inches. Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: Olympia Shannon.

Rarely have I found an exhibition with a more useful or erudite catalogue. Rubinstein traces the roots of diagrammatic art to Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, discusses Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s famous diagram of modernism, and offers some surprising and illuminating notes about the use of diagrams by the Black American philosopher W. E. B. Du Bois and the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint. In tribute, Hilma’s Ghost, the feminist artist collective established by Dannielle Tegeder and Sharmistha Ray, has contributed Shake off your chains! . . . (2023). Diagrams, Rubinstein comments, are both figurative and abstract. This means they can cover extremely varied visual content, as the works assembled here demonstrate. It is worth asking further why the diagram, rather scarce in pre-modern painting, has seduced so many contemporary artists. One possible reason is that a diagram can both elucidate a complex set of facts and express an obsession. This excellent show captures both qualities and more.

Marlborough Gallery: Schema: World as Diagram, 2023, Installation View 02

“Schema: World as Diagram,” curated by Raphael Rubinstein and Heather Bause Rubinstein. Artists: Minjeong An, Shusaku Arakawa, Jennifer Bartlett, Gianfranco Baruchello, Forrest Bess, Joseph Beuys, Thomas Chimes, Mike Cloud, Janet Cohen, Alan Davie, Guy de Cointet, Agnes Denes, David Diao, Lydia Dona, León Ferrari, Charles Gaines, Renee Gladman, Joanne Greenbaum, Lane Hagood, Jane Hammond, Hilma’s Ghost, Thomas Hirschhorn, Alfred Jensen, Christine Sun Kim, Karla Knight, Guillermo Kuitca, Paul Laffoley, Barry Le Va, Mark Lombardi, Chris Martin, Stephen Mueller, Matt Mullican, Loren Munk, Antoni Muntadas, Paul Pagk, Yulia Pinkusevich, Miguel Angel Ríos, Leslie Roberts, Heather Bause Rubinstein, Julian Schnabel, Amy Sillman, Wadada Leo Smith, Gael Stack, Tavares Strachan, Jimmy and Angie Tchooga, Dannielle Tegeder, Bernar Venet, Ouattara Watts, Melvin Way, Trevor Winkfield. Marlborough, 545 West 25th Street, New York, NY.  Through August 11, 2023.

About the author: David Carrier is a former professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Princeton University; a Getty Scholar; and a Clark Fellow. He has lectured in China, Europe, India, Japan, New Zealand, and North America. He has published catalogue essays for many museums and art criticism for Apollo, artcritical, Artforum, Artus and Burlington Magazine. He has also been a guest editor for The Brooklyn Rail and is a regular contributor to Two Coats of Paint.

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One Comment

  1. I can’t wait to view this show and catalog, both because it brings together a diverse group of excellent artists under a compelling connective theme (not often the case with contemporary curation) and because I’ve dedicated several years thinking and writing about the interfaces of diagrams and art in my “Expanded Diagram Project.” Although I’ve not yet seen the catalog essay, I would be surprised if what I’ve gleamed would counter it but rather supplement it. Because of the enormous range of definitions much less functions of conventional diagrams and the nearly similar range of “art diagrams,” it’s quite very challenging to draw meaningful connections between the two. Often artworks that look like conventional diagrams are only superficially related to the workings of diagrams and are simply diagrammatic motifs recruited for (for a lack of a better word) “decorative” impact. Whereas other artworks lacking obvious diagrammatic influence, upon deeper reflection, are indeed echoing similar functions. A key link running through my writings (and blog) is what I call “diagrammatic thinking.” I’ll stop here other than to say that my project lives on my web site (; a key page is (Note: if you view the blog, the most recent posting is an exception. It’s NOT addressing diagrammatic thinking whereas the earlier ones do.). Thanks for the review of this exciting exhibition.

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