Real Spaces and Illusions of Depth: Tomma Abts at David Zwirner
Tomma Abts at David Zwirner Gallery
September 10 to October 25, 2014
519 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 727 2070
Asymmetry, illusion and odd numbers all add up in this, Tomma Abts’s second exhibition at David Zwirner. She was last seen in New York in solo exhibitions six years ago at Zwirner and at the New Museum. There are eight oil and acrylic paintings ranged across three walls and five pencil drawings on paper grouped on the remaining wall. All the paintings are hung at what might be considered a lower height than usual, one that invites contemplation from close quarters.
Fenke (2014) is positioned singly over toward the right end of the wall. It is the standard size of 18-7/8 x 15 inches that Abts has been using for some time now. Surface as a subject and its contradiction through an irresistible illusionism propels a counterpoint that succeeds in engaging vision, touch and thinking equally. Fenke even has a slice cut in from its edge, inviting real space to participate and contrast the illusions of depth created elsewhere in the composition
On the adjacent wall, Wybe (2014) – one of four this time, three equally spaced, and one distanced further away, again to the right – is divided into two parts by a diagonal space of half an inch or so. This startling incursion does not masquerade as part of the composition as in Fenke. Wybe evinces a sense of over-painting: there are fine gradations across the canvas tooth and opaque skins marked with ridges formed by edges of now submerged shapes. We sense an image repeatedly reconfigured or lost, a result of many hours in the studio.
Abts’s approach is intuitive – the geometric planar compositions emerge without a prior plan and so refute along the way the need for a fixed rationale. Her space is a shallow and completely convincing one, always askew and splintered. Her use of shading and muted color that evokes unnatural light and obscured passages of space recall the sculpture of Vincent Fecteau.
When installing the exhibition Abts looks for a precise relation for her works to the gallery. The position and height of the works and the lighting are, in a way, the continuation of the idea of composition, this time applied to the gallery itself. Once installed Abts then titles the paintings, sourcing from a dictionary of first names. This way of titling and the size of painting naturally bring portraiture to mind. and abstraction of this order can indeed portray an emotion or atmosphere, complex feelings and states of mind. Certainly there is openness in how the viewer may choose to identify the characteristics seen, both formally and psychologically. The paintings are a physical and visual language that discovers rather than seeks equivalences to experience. They do, of course, provoke new experience using a vocabulary of traditional means and forms sometimes considered exhausted.
The five drawings made with pencil and colored pencil read as permutations – there seem to be rules or a set of principles that they extend from, in a musical sense. Contained within each linear element is a striped pattern of yellow, red, green, blue and graphite carefully filled in against the white of the paper. The lines pass over and under each other their color joining intermittently and in so doing imply a movement that flickers restlessly suggesting at turns that the lines incise the paper or are slivers of planes seen through slits. The space and diagonal dynamics are close to the paintings – the white paper is substantial and pressing rather than acting as a void. Both the paintings and drawings, whether planar and opaque in the former or skeletal and rhythmic in the latter, somehow remain fragmentary whilst lacking nothing.