Abts in heaven

New Museum is presenting the first major U.S. solo exhibition of paintings by London-based artist Tomma Abts (born Kiel, Germany, 1967). Abts creates surprising, small abstract paintings that are being touted as the antidote to the “florid figuration” that has dominated contemporary painting in recent years. In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson writes that Abts’s paintings look otherworldly at the New Museum. “Widely spaced on three white walls under a soaring ceiling with multiple skylights, Ms. Abts�s 14 small works look as though they died and went to heaven….You might suspect that so much bright space would be too much for Ms. Abts�s seemingly modest canvases. Her abstract, hard-edged compositions, each one measuring just 18 7/8 by 15 inches, are the opposite of showy. They have a nerdy, introverted spirit that would seem to prefer more intimate conditions. (No doubt many were surprised when Ms. Abts, who was born in Germany in 1967 and lives in London, won the 2006 Turner Prize, which usually goes to more ostentatious kinds of art.) Far from shrinking under such glaring public exposure, however, her pictures exert a gravitational force that draws you in and makes you momentarily forget the big empty room. Each seems a little world unto itself. The alternation between the expansive space of the gallery and the absorbing compression of individual paintings is exhilarating….Ms. Abts takes a long time to produce her works, and she is not prolific. You can see that she does much painting and repainting. Though flat, the paintings are not smooth: they are crisscrossed by ridges and seams of underlying layers. It is an art of decisions, revisions, corrections and adjustments, and the cumulative textures, like scar tissue, give the impression that the final pictures are hard won.” Read more.

Tomma Abts,” organized by Laura Hoptman. New Museum, New York, NY. Through June 29. Traveling to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles,CA, from July 27 through Nov. 2.

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