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SFMOMA Debuts a New Body of Work by R. H. Quaytman
R. H. Quaytman, I Love — The Eyelid Clicks I See Cold Poetry, Chapter 18, 2010; silkscreen inks on gessoed panel; 32 3/8 x 32 3/8 in. (82.2 x 82.2 cm); R. H. Quaytman, courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery; photo: Adam Reich.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents the exhibition New Work: R. H. Quaytman. Organized by Apsara DiQuinzio, SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture, the exhibition features a new series of paintings commissioned by the museum and made specifically for the exhibition at SFMOMA, the artist's second solo museum exhibition and the first presentation on the West Coast.

Modest in scale, Quaytman's paintings on beveled wood panels proffer richly conceived, multilayered subjects. The artist considers each body of work a new "chapter" in an ongoing investigation of the interrelationship of site, history, and object. With each chapter structured around a specific theme or concept relating to the site in which it is displayed, a loose narrative thread develops over time. Quaytman's New Work exhibition at SFMOMA debuts I Love — The Eyelid Clicks I See Cold Poetry, Chapter 18, in which a selection of works from SFMOMA's photography collection is used to reflect on the work of Jack Spicer, a poet associated with the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s. The title is an excerpt from Spicer's poem "Imaginary Elegies, I-VI (For Robin Blaser)."

In this series, Quaytman examines the complex terrain between text and image using Spicer's poetry and photographs from SFMOMA's collection as points of departure. Most of the photographs Quaytman has selected are by unknown photographers, except an abstract composition by Jay DeFeo made by manipulating photographic chemicals on light-sensitive paper.

"All of Quaytman's work operates on multiple levels," notes DiQuinzio. "The artist builds identifiable layers that are culturally relevant, historically researched, and personally reflective, interpolating elements of time, place, perception, and memory. The paintings always index the context in which they are exhibited. Chapter 18 will address the fact that it is displayed in this specific institution, within this specific city."

The core of Quaytman's work consists of thought-provoking paintings methodically made on wood panels in seven interrelated sizes based on the golden ratio (any dimension multiplied by 1.618) and primed with a traditional rabbit-skin gesso. Employing a variety of techniques and painterly vocabularies, Quaytman knowingly explores the complex history of painting. Collectively, the works portray a tantalizing range of patterns and surfaces; they are often installed directly in relation to the architecture in which they are exhibited in order to purposively propel the direction of the viewer's movement in space, so that the paintings themselves address the viewer when they are both standing in front of them and passing by. When the paintings are viewed together in the gallery, optically dense geometric patterns are seen in relation to flat monochromatic surfaces, photographic images, or faint contours disappearing under layers of luminescent diamond dust. The fluid movement between abstract, hand-applied oil and layered, photo-based silkscreens causes one to optically weave in and out of the compositional picture planes, thus drawing one's attention to the shifting relationship between figure and ground. Myriad perspectival points are represented, compelling viewers to assess their own position in relation to the paintings. In effect, these paintings highlight the physical act of perception and challenge one's ability to read the picture plane in relation to its surrounding context. To date the artist has produced eighteen "chapters," each distinct in theme yet interrelated within the overarching metanarrative begun in 2001.

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