Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tomma Abts in New York

Tomma Abts
Lübbe, 2005
Acrylic & oil on canvas
48cm x 38cm

'The final painting is a concentrate of the many paintings underneath'.
Tomma Abts, in interview with Peter Doig

The Museum of Contemporary Art, formerly in Chelsea, has reopened in its new incarnation as the New Museum of Contemporary Art. It's now on the Bowery in a great new building pleasingly at odds with the surroundings: it looks like three steel boxes of varying size piled on top of each other. I knew that whatever was on would be interesting and felt a quiet pang of artful joy when I read in the New York Times that the museum was showing Tomma Abts' paintings.

Tomma is German and lives and works in London. She won the Turner Prize in 2006, and had the strongest room in that year's Turner show (bolstered in no small way by Rebecca Thomas' hamfisted clay sculptures in the room next door). Tomma's paintings are complex compositions with circles, lines and geometrics, all bisecting each other in throbbing dark reds and poisonous greens. Imagine a detail of Wyndham Lewis' 'Workshop' reduced down to a low voltage and remade in muted colours.

Like the Turner show there is plenty of space around the work, and I love the small uniform size. I'm sick to death of large paintings where it's easy to create an impact with so-so content, but brilliantly all Tomma's pictures are only 48 x 38cm. This gives the show a very together feel and the paintings feed off each other almost as though they are wired up behind the scenes. As the work is so human in scale you get up close, noticing the faint underpainting and raised patterning of several painstaking reworkings sitting underneath the finished work. They have titles, like 'Eppe', 'Meko', 'Keke' and so on, which are apparently regional German first names chosen at random from a dictionary Tomma keeps in her studio, and probably a code of convenience rather than an attempt to provide a further key into the work, but I wondered how a German viewer might see them.

Also showing is a joint show by Daniel Guzman and Steven Shearer called 'Double Album': ambitious self-portraiture investigating adolescence and male identity using pop icons and teen-subculture. As is this wasn't enough there is also Paul Chan's '7 Lights' - a darkened room filled with flickering projections and animations in silhouette of the natural world, moving trees and developing landscape. The projections are about the 7-days of creation, most using obsolete technology giving the projections a shakey handmade feel like moving fuzzy felts around on an overhead projector.

The building also has a very cool shop attached, where you can buy artist's multiples, badges, books on Throbbing Gristle and, marvellously, Black Flag canvas tote bags (just the thing for the George and Dragon). As so many things in New York are bigger and better than it's London counterparts you can imagine the 'New Museum' is a sort of ICA times ten.

'Tomma Abts' is on until 29th June 2008.

New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery between Prince and Spring streets