Evans in check, Matta forever

Maybe it’s the season and the dropping temperatures. Maybe it’s Sideshow Gallery and the haimish atmosphere it cultivates. But mostly it’s the paintings of Tom Evans. How else to explain the wave of heat radiating from far-off Williamsburg?

Far-off? Williamsburg is a quick jaunt on the L train. No, we’re talking aesthetic distance, not mileage. While Evans’ robust brand of gestural abstractions would look fine in this or that Manhattan venue, their plainspoken sincerity stand in stark contrast to the sleek, chilly ambiance of the Chelsea Standard. A longtime inhabitant of the New York scene, Evans is heir to the New York School and an unswerving advocate for the art of painting. The untrendy niche he’s carved for himself can be traced, at least in part, to a perpetual embrace of risk and the vulnerability it signals.

Matta, “L’homme descend du signe,” 1975, oil on canvas, 13 feet, 5.75 in. x 27’ 4 in. Photo by Christian Baraja / Courtesy The Pace Gallery

Matta, “L’homme descend du signe,” 1975, oil on canvas, 13 feet, 5.75 in. x 27’ 4 in. Photo by Christian Baraja / Courtesy The Pace Gallery

Evans is a romantic who isn’t afraid to fall on his ass. The paintings are muscular conflagrations of brusque brushwork and overripe color. Fields of dotted pigment and unexpected bursts of light move fast and burn slowly. Effulgent blues, acidic purples, operatic reds and shocks of green—Evans hasn’t met a saturated color he doesn’t like. Chromatic indulgence is offset by compositional poise. Each time a painting threatens to disentangle (or explode) into its constituent parts, it’s held in sharp, if sometimes tenuous, check.

The majority of pictures are scaled to the human body—around 6 feet by 5 feet. Their roiling trajectories are determined by the arm’s reach; enlivened by it, too. The few occasions when Evans works on a smaller scale, the results are less allusive, more reigned-in. An artist who thrives on letting it all out should give himself ample space to do just that. When that artist hits the mark—as Evans does in the magisterial “St. Adrian’s” (2008)—the results generate not only heat and light, but also something distinctly humane. Evans’ paintings are a welcome respite from the professionalism that surrounds us.

The Chilean painter Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren, subject of a dizzying exhibition at Pace Gallery, has a distinct hold on the history of 20th-century art.

Invited to join the surrealists by ringleader André Breton, at the behest of Salvador Dalí and Federíco Garcia Lorca, Matta (as he is commonly known) became a direct link between European modernism and the American art scene. Matta was among the European artists who came to the United States at the onset of the Second World War. The surrealist principles he espoused during a 10-year stay in New York, from 1938–1948, proved decisive for the developing oeuvres of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. The New York School is inconceivable without Matta.

What is almost as inconceivable (at least, for some of us) is that Matta’s life and career extended beyond the heyday of abstract expressionism. Not a few veteran art world observers did double takes upon learning that Matta died only a few years back—in 2001 at the age of 91. The 21st century! Matta’s hold on history is less fixed than we thought. The uncanny thing about his expansive brand of surrealism has always been how it presaged virtual space before the notion became a commonplace.

Matta: A Centennial Exhibition is a rare opportunity to acquaint yourself with this discursive, eccentric and unclassifiable artist. The paintings are big—a couple are huge. Each is a slurry of pictorial tics gleaned from automatism, futurism, graffiti, pictographs, high modernist dogma, post-modernist caprice and the loopier precincts of science fiction. Imagine Star Wars meeting Miró and Kandinsky in a back alley of the Aztec empire under the influence of hallucinogenics; then immerse it within a floating, fractured and bodiless space not unlike that which we encounter on our computer screen. A more quixotic painter you couldn’t come up with; Matta is a visionary of singular and contrary gifts. This is an exhibition that shouldn’t be missed.

Tom Evans
Through Dec. 18, Sideshow Gallery, 319 Bedford Ave. (Brooklyn), 718-486-8180, www.sideshowgallery.com.

Matta: A Centennial Celebration   
Through Jan. 28, 2012, Pace Gallery, 534 W. 25th St., 212-929-7000, www.thepacegallery.com.

Exhibition Openings

Blue Mountain Gallery: Anne Diggory: “Turbulence.” Opens Jan. 3, 530 W. 25th St., 646-486-4730, bluemountaingallery.org.

chashama 217: Kenneth E. Parris III: “104 Work Weeks: On Tour With the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.” Opens Dec. 29, 217 E. 42nd St., 212-391-8151, chashama.org.

Lesley Heller Workspace: Dana Melamed: “Transforming Voids.” Opens Dec. 14. “Limited Engagement.” Opens Dec. 14, 54 Orchard St., 212-410-6120, lesleyheller.com.

Lori Bookstein Fine Art: Janet Malcolm: “Free Associations.” Dec. 8–Jan. 14, 138 10th Ave., 212-750-0949, loribooksteinfineart.com.

Spanierman Modern: Frank Wimberley. Dec. 15–Jan. 14, 53 E. 58th St., 212-832-1400, spaniermanmodern.com.

Tibor de Nagy: Elizabeth Bishop: “Objects & Apparitions.” Dec. 8–Jan. 21, 724 5th Ave., 212-262-5050, tibordenagy.com.

Last Chance Exhibitions

ClampArt: Marc Yankus: “Call It Sleep.” Ends Dec. 17, 521-531 W. 25th St., Grnd. Fl., 646-230-0020, clampart.com.

David Findlay Jr Gallery: “The Second Wave: American Abstraction from the 1930s & 1940s.” Ends Dec. 24, 724 5th Ave., 212-486-7660, davidfindlayjr.com.

Elizabeth Harris Gallery: Pat Passlof: “Recent Paintings 2005–2011.” Ends Dec. 23, 529 W. 20th St., 212-463-9666, eharrisgallery.com.

Phoenix Gallery: Elise Ansel, Martin Banks, Joseph Brown, Leslie Carabas & Allan Gorman. Ends Dec. 22, 210 11th Ave., Ste. 902, 212-226-8711, phoenix-gallery.com.

Rooster Gallery: Teresa Henriques: “Problem.” Ends Jan. 22, 190 Orchard St., roostergallery.com.