Tomm El-Saieh, Walking Razor, 2017-18. Courtesy of the artist and CENTRAL FINE, Miami Beach

10 New Museum Triennial Artists in 10 Days: Tomm El-Saieh

GARAGE's final selection from the New Museum's 2018 roundup of the best in international young art is a painter of ecstatic abstractions.

by Joseph R. Wolin
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Feb 23 2018, 12:38pm

Tomm El-Saieh, Walking Razor, 2017-18. Courtesy of the artist and CENTRAL FINE, Miami Beach

Since Younger than Jesus, its 2009 first installment, the New Museum Triennial has been a key date on the New York art-world calendar. As the city’s only recurring show devoted to international emerging artists, it provides an indispensable first look at the people and practices who will help define the field in years to come. 2018’s event, subtitled Songs for Sabotage, gathers thirty artists and collectives linked by their interest in disrupting the hierarchies of propaganda, power, control that shape our lives and cultures.

Here's the last of GARAGE's ten Triennial artists to watch.

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The son of a Haitian-Palestinian father and an Israeli mother, Tomm El-Saieh (born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1984; based in Miami, Florida) grew up around his grandfather’s local gallery, so becoming an artist meant entering the family business. (His younger brother Viktor is also a painter.) Tomm ran an exhibition space in Miami Beach and now programs for the family’s space in Haiti, but in his own paintings, he favors an ecstatic abstraction. He overlays vaporous stained fields in smoldering colors or sooty grays with smudges and small repetitive marks that never quite coalesce into pictographs—though suggestions of sunbursts, googly eyes, and smiley faces abound.

Conjuring cave art, cuneiform, and aerial views of cityscapes, El-Saieh’s canvases immerse us in an allover aesthetic in which visual focus proves proves as elusive as meaning. They incite a reverie that the artist has likened to the trance states of Haitian Vodou. The blinding light of the tropics might also have influenced El-Saieh’s vision—one thinks of similar effects in work by Caribbean painters like Wifredo Lam and Armando Reverón. But the earliest abstract painting modeled itself on music, and El-Saieh’s marks can also read like notes in an expanded staff. It may be more than incidental that his art-dealing grandfather was also a Haitian bandleader.

2018 Triennial: Songs for Sabotage is on view at the New Museum, New York, through May 27.

Tomm El-Saieh, Tablet, 2017-18. Courtesy of the artist and CENTRAL FINE, Miami Beach
Tomm El-Saieh, Greeking, 2017-18. Courtesy of the artist and CENTRAL FINE, Miami Beach
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New Museum Triennial