The paintings of contemporary artist R. H. Quaytman employ a variety of pictorial and conceptual strategies, ranging from the literary to the logical, from the representational to the abstract, and from the optical to the physical. This sweeping scope has allowed Quaytman to explore many of the factors that enable a painting to generate meaning, whether they be its content, context, or mode of production. In the course of considering the medium’s potential, Quaytman has repeatedly used other artists or their work as subject matter, a practice that reflects on how any work of art is necessarily understood, by artist and viewer, in relation to other artworks.
For this exhibition, Quaytman will present a new group of paintings, titled + ×, Chapter 34, which will be shown in conjunction with Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, the first exhibition devoted to Hilma af Klint in the United States since Quaytman organized a survey of her work at New York’s P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in 1989. In these new paintings, Quaytman will engage the Swedish artist’s aesthetic language and spiritually charged subject matter, reexamining both through the lens of the Guggenheim Museum’s founding ethos. Those ideals were indebted to the art and theories of Vasily Kandinsky, who believed deeply in abstraction’s transcendent potential, and culminated with the commissioning of Frank Lloyd Wright to design a museum for nonobjective art that would serve as “a temple of the spirit.” Quaytman’s title invokes the private symbology of af Klint, whose own radical pursuit of abstraction in the early twentieth century was similarly grounded in spirituality and ideas of human progress but was kept largely out of public view. Af Klint further mandated that her work not be exhibited for twenty years following her death. + × were the symbols she used in her notebooks to mark what was to be withheld—the works that she believed were most important.
Quaytman’s paintings are in many ways governed by a strict set of rules. Works are organized into focused groups referred to as “chapters,” which are sequentially numbered and uniquely titled. With few exceptions, individual paintings share their chapter’s moniker. Paintings are executed on wood panels with beveled edges, which conform to a consistent set of dimensions, all either square or based on the golden mean. Screenprinted photographic imagery appears in each chapter, as do patterns that sometimes recall Op art. Despite these rigorously held consistencies, Quaytman’s work exceeds any sense of systematic control. Instead the artist uses these parameters to explore diverse subjects and their affects, while maintaining an underlying unity that permeates each of the chapters, as well as the larger body of work they comprise. Quaytman’s decision to conceive of this ongoing project, begun in 2001, as unified and linked, was based on the example of af Klint, who understood each of her paintings as part of a larger whole.
Quaytman shapes the chapters’ subject matter in response to the context in which they are first shown. Taking into account the physical space, its history, and present identity, Quaytman embarks on in-depth research, sometimes following idiosyncratic threads that are informed by circumstantial connections or the content of previous chapters. This approach, which privileges receptivity over control, mirrors the structure of the chapters themselves, in which individual paintings are as likely to be linked suggestively as they are to posit definitive relationships. Through this open-ended practice, Quaytman explores painting’s capacity to create and accrue meaning in terms that are as expansive as the ever-growing body of work her chapters comprise.
This exhibition is organized by Tracey Bashkoff, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, with David Horowitz, Curatorial Assistant.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)