11.4.08

THOMAS NOZKOWSKI at Pace

Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (8-103), 2008, oil on linen on panel, 22" x 28"

Tom Nozkowski hits the bigtime with his first show at Pace in Chelsea. He's occupying both rooms of the 25th Street space, the first with a group of 22" x 28" paintings on linen, and the second with 22" x 30" framed pieces on paper. There are lots of paintings, maybe too many, but the uniformity of scale makes the show extremely tidy. Standing in the middle of the huge gallery space scanning around the walls, the configurations from that distance are wonderfully diverse and animated. But up close, these paintings really show their stuff, and in this sense their small scale works to their advantage. They are beautifully and carefully constructed images, surfaces made of layers of scraping, linear elements meticulously embedded in the fields, simple and slightly clunky arrangements of shapes. Each image feels both resolved and hard-won, a final moment in a deliberately laborious process; and the configurations are truly eccentric and inventive, many recalling Klee in their playfulness and tenuous balance. For all their "early 20th century abstraction" appearance, there is also a strange immediacy to many of the paintings, something more related to graffiti, found juxtapositions, urban incidents. Still, the paintings are resolutely old fashioned in spirit -- organic abstraction distilled from direct living experience -- and proud of it. Interestingly, when I entered the gallery, it was full of young uptown kids (on a field trip from a Bronx school), all with oversized jeans and sideways caps. It was great that they were visiting the show, but they were not just walking through. They were really excited about this work -- looking closely, discussing, laughing -- it was very cool.