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Jessica Diamond’s Vivid Vision: Painted Poetry

The Hirshhorn Museum is currently showcasing Jessica Diamond’s Painted Poetry, her most expansive installation to date. Jessica Diamond’s Painted Poetry pierces the gallery walls of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum with vibrant vitality, beckoning visitors into her world of Painted Poetry.

Jessica Diamond’s exhibition “Apple Season (Artist’s Life #2)” unveils amidst the verdant hues of a painted grass-green meadow. Rendered on the second level of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in the capital city, this poetic 17-line masterpiece winds across the wall, invoking the hidden lives of fruit-bearing trees tucked away in obscurity. Through Diamond’s eyes, a forest brims with countless apples, unseen and untouched.

The assistant curator of the museum, Betsy Johnson, interprets Diamond’s mural art as a longing, a deep desire to embody the wild apple, to exist freely beyond the confines of structured society.

“Jessica Diamond: Wheel of Life,” currently on display at the Hirshhorn until June 2, 2024, presents the artist as a voyeur examining a society unraveling subtly. Located on the upper gallery, this puzzling exhibition gazes out onto the museum’s atrium, bathed in natural light. Comprising 15 pieces, this is Diamond’s most comprehensive installation, transcending time’s bounds. It’s an autobiographical journey at moments concrete, elsewhere elusive, perpetually attuned to the hidden and the nuances beneath the overt.

Born in New York City in 1957, Diamond is an alumna of the School of Visual Arts and Columbia University. Her murals, ranging from monumental to minuscule, share a consistent incisiveness—an art with intent. Diamond rose to prominence during the affluent ’80s, a period when artists were both drawing from and reinventing pop culture—echoing Jeff Koons and his iconic, vibrant sculptures. Diamond’s work, much like her contemporaries’, embraces a defiant undertone; her murals stand as both commentary on and sanctuary from the commodification of art.

Johnson remarks that Diamond’s art highlights the frameworks that dominate our existence, offering viewers a chance to pause and reflect critically.

Diamond draws inspiration from the writings of Henry David Thoreau, whom she describes in her exhibition notes as a “solitary social revolutionary.” Thoreau’s 1862 essay “Wild Apples” contemplates the rich diversity of apples, with their unique patterns and variations. However, he concludes with an ominous note from the Book of Joel, evoking the image of a devouring swarm: “For a nation has come upon my land, mighty and beyond counting; its teeth are lion’s teeth.” This sense of impending turmoil echoes through Diamond’s initial piece, which commences with a powerful plea: “Let / Me / Be.” This line, among others in the series, acts as a mantra for navigation and resilience throughout her journey in life, according to Johnson.

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