Beatriz Milhazes and Tomma Abts

Both Beatriz Milhazes at James Cohan and Tomma Abts at David Zwirner presented spare shows. Milhazes offered one large painting per wall; Abts, several small paintings per each very large wall. Size aside, they couldn’t have been more opposite.

Study in contrasts: Milhazes is hot and expansive; Abts is cold and tight

Milhazes kaleidoscopes the grid, geometry, Carnaval, textile design, folk art and botany into a throbbing samba of up-against-the-picture-plane abstraction. Her paintings are a non-pharmacological high. They’re big, joyous, warm, physically expressive, wilfully chromatic, unabashedly beautiful. The work is so richly detailed that every visual toke—er, detail—offers something big and fabulous; even her paintings have paintings!

Milhazes: Sinfonia Nordestina, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 96 7/8 x 144 7/8 inches

Detail below

Milhazes: Popeye, 2008 acrylic on canvas, 78 3/8 x 54 3/4 inches

Milhazes: Mulatinho, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 97 5/6 x 97 5/8

Two (very different) details below

Milhazes: Carambola, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 54 7/8 a 50 5/8

Detail below

Against this extravagantly saturated tropicalismo it’s probably unfair to make comparisons, but I found Tomma Abts’s paintings stingy and tight, like the kid in school who encircles his paper with his left arm to make sure no one can catch a glimpse of what he’s writing. I liked her recent show at the New Museum well enough, and I can appreciate the intellectual rigor of the work here, but in this show her coolness struck me as cold and, well,withholding. The tonal hues seemed too gray, the geometry too quirky, too labored. There are layers and layers of paintings under the surface—Abts’ process is to let the work grow intuitively from this mulch, so to speak—but I left feeling that while she might have planted plum tomatoes, she ended up with radishes.

Abts, clockwise from top left: Nesche, Bilte, Teite, Lurro; all 2008, oil and acrylic on canvas, 19 x 15 inches. All full-view images from the gallery website

Abts: Isko, 2008, oil and acrylic on canvas, 19 x 15 inches

Detail below, hinting at the layers of painting underneath the surface


Nancy Natale said...

I have been a fan of Beatrice Milhazes for a long time and loved your post and description of her work. Thanks so much for posting these images, Joanne. The details you posted were fabulous - so luscious and painterly.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree on Tomma Abts - I was excited to go see the show and disappointed at how dry it turned out to be. They were the paintings Thomas Nozkowski would have painted if he were a Vulcan!

Joanne Mattera said...

Giovanni says of Abts: "They were the paintings Thomas Nozkowski would have painted if he were a Vulcan!"
That is too hilarious!
And spot on!

* said...

I like Abst a lot, and I'm a little dubious about the "too" dry charge-- but I haven't seen the show...

More to the point, I'm very excited about seeing paintings by Nozkowski as a Vulcan! That sounds like a great body of work. (I love the paintings he makes as a human, too, but...)


* said...

...make that "Abts". I was too focused on spelling "Nozkowski" correctly...

S.A. said...

I have to agree the Abts paintings are just dismal -- everything about them seems constricted and dulled down -- like the dead of winter -- not in the same ball park as Nozkowski (who I'm pretty sure WAS once a Vulcan).

Anonymous said...

I think what makes Abts feel dry is the living 'halfway between worlds'. It has drawn harsh criticism from me in the past. Since then I am a little more convinced. When I saw some in Tokyo I WAS QUITE SURPRISED how giving they are, and beautiful, beautifully composed 'halfway between', which is smack middle of a Tomma Abts' world. I would love to see the show. probably wouldn't rock my boat, but still. The edge is not always found in the sledge.


tony said...

I always want to like Abts' work more I can. I usually end up feeling that what I'm seeing is the result of a hybid between Rodchenko and a fabric designer from the 30's.

Lorene Ann Taurerewa said...

Nice work!!