Perfection: Tomma Abts and Helene Appel

Is perfection making a comeback? In exhibitions at David Zwirner and James Cohan, Tomma Abts (b. Germany 1967) and Helene Appel (b. Germany 1976) certainly make a case that focus and exactitude are still meaningful approaches.

[Image: Tomma Abts @ David Zwirner]

 Helen Appel painting @ James Cohan

A notoriously slow painter, Abts is having her first show at Zwirner since 2008. She continues to make the small-scale abstractions with layered geometric shapes for which she is best known, but has begun to introduce ruptures, such as a diptych format and a cut corner, into the picture plane. Her work requires careful scrutiny to apprehend the process, which begins with thin layers of scruffy acrylic washes. She draws out the shapes with pencil and begins to build with color, eventually shifting to opaque layers of oil paint employing trompe l�oeil trickery and overlays. Titled with unusual female German names, the work seems distinctly veiled and private: Abts’s world is narrow-focused and intensely personal.

  Tomma Abts painting @ David Zwirner
Abts’s diptych
At James Cohan, Helene Appel’s paintings, although with fewer layers, are equally precise. She works in watercolor, oil, and encaustic, both large-scale and small-scale, on raw canvas and burlap. Appel–in contrast to Abts–is focused on the world around her, using traditional trompe l�oeil technique to depict fabric, sheets of transparent plastic, hand sewing, match sticks, floor grit, slabs of meat, and other objects from everyday life. Appel’s skill and technique are remarkable, and her work is handsome. But it is also dreary. Unlike the potent abstract images that Abts builds through her process and imagination, Appel’s quotidian pictures embody a familiar blend of hyper-realism and abstraction and try to have it both ways.
Helen Appel, installation at James Cohan.
Helen Appel, installation at James Cohan.

“Tomma Abts,” David Zwirner, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through October 25, 2014.

“Helene Appel,” James Cohan, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through October 4, 2014.

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