Tomma Abts

I develop something without any preconceptions of what it is going to look like, so, to give it a meaning and sense of self-evidence, I try to define the forms precisely. The forms don't stand for anything else, they don't symbolize anything or describe anything outside of painting. They represent themselves.

In The New York Times in 2008, Holland Carter described Tomma Abts’s paintings as “intensely absorbing,” then continued his review in this way: “Basic, formal elements like stripes, arcs, circles, planes and polygons are carefully layered, juxtaposed and interwoven in all sorts of subtly eccentric ways. Ms. Abts’s colors are muted but seductive, and she adds highlights and shadows creating mysterious, three-dimensional illusions.”

Tomma Abts, who was born in Kiel, Germany in 1967, has been based in London since 1995. In 2006 she received the Turner Prize awarded by the Tate Modern in London. Her first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition consisted of fifteen works painted from the turn of the millennium to 2008. Considering the time period in which the works were created, Abts speaks in an interview in a recent book, about her wish to seek the “art of the future” in the present.

Working consistently in a vertical format of 19-by-15 inches Abts applies numerous successive layers of paint to her canvases and works on them over many months. She titles her finely calibrated paintings by consulting a book of German first names such as: Obbe, Ert, Mehm. This gives each an individual, portrait-like character. “Why are these paintings so memorable?” asks Adrian Searle in The Guardian. He writes, “I think it is because of their evident conviction, the restraint and reserve with which each is delivered. Every painting is unmistakably by its author, each quite unlike its neighbor. The world Abts depicts is utterly consistent, even with all its anomalies and flaws.”

Critics have endeavored to describe her abstract canvases as having the appearance of “mask-like faces,” “biomorphic abstractions,” “architectural constructs,” or as described in The Guardian in 2006, “scored and folded papers, struggling to achieve three dimensions.” Abts talks about her work this way: “I develop something without any preconceptions of what it is going to look like, so, to give it a meaning and sense of self-evidence, I try to define the forms precisely. They become, through the shadows, texture, etc., quite physical and therefore “real” and not an image of something else. The forms don’t stand for anything else, they don’t symbolize anything or describe anything outside of painting. They represent themselves.”

Abts has had one-person exhibitions at the Serpentine Galleries, London (2018); the Art Institute of Chicago (2018-2019); Aspen Art Museum (2014); Kunsthalle Kiel, Germany (2006); Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2005); and Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (2005). Since 1999, she has had solo exhibitions in galleries in Berlin, Cologne, and London. Her work has been included in major international exhibitions such as the Berlin Biennial (2006), the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh (2004), and the Istanbul Biennial (2001) as well as a two-person exhibition with Vincent Fecteau at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2004). She is represented by greengrassi in London, David Zwirner in New York, and Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin.

—Dana Zullo, Crown Point Press

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