R. H. Quaytman

<div class="col m-4 auteur pull-right"> <div class="inner"> <div class="white"> <a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Nicolas Bourriaud</b><br> <span style="display: none;"> Art historian, director of<br/> La Panacée, Montpellier </span> </div> </div> </div> <br/><br/><br/><br/><br/> <span class="alinea"></span>If, years from now, art historians continue to exist, it is likely that, were they to attempt to encapsulate, in a single word, all the art that was produced during the second half of the twentieth century, they would choose “system.” From Pop art to conceptual art, from Andy Warhol to On Kawara, artists strove to organize their production systematically, following a serial or calendar model, preferring a self-imposed constraint to the arbitrary moment of “inspiration.” They carefully came up with a unitary structure that could have infinite permutations. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>It was for similar reasons that R. H. Quaytman decided, in 2001, that she would divide her work into numbered chapters, each chapter corresponding to one of her exhibitions. Her work itself is not produced in series, strictly speaking: each chapter has an overall coherence, but at times includes exceptions and irregularities, presenting the viewer with an enigma to decipher. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The notion of chapters as divisions of a book leads us to search for a narrative sequence connecting her paintings, an element that carried the structure established by the artist. Quaytman constructs her exhibitions as “chapters,” units of place, time, and action. In so doing, she endows each of her paintings with the status of a fragment; they are each a unit that can be isolated from the whole to which it belongs. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The system she has elaborated has little in common with the strict, conceptual seriality beloved by artists of the 1960s. Hers is a poetic, incomplete, metaphorical system. In 2001, when she made this structural decision, it was in order “to fight against the physical dispersion” of her work, meaning that her goal was to serenely fight against the commodification of art; to keep a record of her research; to counter the dissolution of the work of art across social networks, a dissemination programmed into the rapid turnover of cultural products. It’s an architectural principle: creating rooms in which to protect objects. While the chapters suggest a connection among the works created for a specific exhibition, they also connect those works to the space in which they were shown—each painting retains, in an infinitesimal way, the memory of those spaces. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>This determination to resist dispersal has become a characteristic of our era: in the age of social networks, overall coherence has become a major stake in art. Soon after Quaytman made her structural decision, Seth Price first published <i>Dispersion</i> (2002): in this very formal art-historical essay outlining the stakes of his work, Price refers to the “complete decentralization” that characterizes post-Internet culture, to reach the conclusion that “distribution is a circuit of reading.” He adds that the artist’s role has become one of “packaging, producing, reframing, and distributing: a mode of production analogous not to the creation of material goods, but to the production of social contexts, using existing material.” Quaytman and Price are two true contemporaries: they ground their reflection in the same analysis and arrive on two responses that are certainly quite different, yet remarkably similar. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Grounding our reflection in the digitalization of culture, we can come to see Quaytman’s use of painting as a <i>channel</i>, rather than as a <i>medium</i> (adopting modernists’ use of the term). “The medium is painting, not what the painting is made with,” she explains. “It used to be thought that the blank canvas was already a monochrome—now it is the choice itself, whether painting or not, that functions like the medium.” The choice of a channel, the distribution of forms: painting as a space of transmission. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>I tend to consider R. H. Quaytman’s works as panels, or screens, rather than as <i>paintings</i>. Quaytman’s paintings, with their enigmatic structure, iconography, and motifs, refer us to non-knowledge. Each of these panels seems to be the projection of an external, invisible reality, forever fragmented, as though stemming from a submerged totality. In <i>Ark, Chapter 10 (Stuart Sherman Passing By)</i>, from 2007, you can clearly perceive this projective dimension: the blurred outline of a man, split in two, spectral, in a bluish space dominated by the dregs of the scene, like a veil on a screen. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>At times surfaces, at others images, created with a multiplicity of methods and tools, Quaytman’s work bears witness to the active pulverization of artistic practice in the twenty-first century. The work can’t be reduced to the object itself, but presents itself as a meaningful network. The artist outlines that network, organizes its progression in time and space: the work’s shape is like that of a network, in which the multiple chapters of Quaytman’s oeuvre function as so many circuits, connected to one another. What is striking is that her work does not bear any clear sign of belonging to the current era, outside of its process of construction, the assembly of its various parts forming a network, or a chapter. It is this structure of the work of art, its mode of composition, that is the most markedly “contemporary” aspect of Quaytman’s work. It summons and organizes elements from different timelines: the <i>postponed</i> (delay) coexists with the illusion of real time (look, for example, at her work <i>Ark</i>, which borrows the esthetic of the surveillance camera). In a similar way, the documentary coexists with fiction—not according to an accumulative principle (the postmodern baroque), but in order to reveal the shape of our present, in which temporalities and levels of reality are entangled. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>This esthetic of pulverization, this choice of painting as a channel rather than as medium, allows the artist to analyze, to decompose, the process of the advent of the image—the extremity of the visible, the narrow film that separates the eye from the object. What we perceive, first and foremost, when looking at one of Quaytman’s paintings, is the veil that separates us from it. We immediately perceive everything that comes between our gaze and our deciphering of the shapes and motifs. The shapes or images that appear on the canvas seem less important than the frames on which they are hung, the grids, the hues, the fogs that cover them, the different traces or accidents that impede an immediate reading. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>There is always a filter between the gaze and the work: a silkscreen, pixelization, blurs, a frame within a frame. Through this praise of the filter and the frame, Quaytman extends the analyses of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, initiated at a moment in the history of the image in the age of mechanical reproduction that has now ended, submerged by the Instagram-ization of the image and its distribution on a digital “canvas.” In this way, Quaytman has surpassed postmodernism, which advocated for a diversity of styles and ways of painting: the extreme heterogeneity that characterizes her work never conveys this diversity, for it relates to the numerical annihilation that now reigns over our modes of perception.
<i>חקק, Chapter 29</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Gouache, casein, oil, silkscreen ink, gesso on wood <br/> 94,1 × 94,1 × 3,2 cm <br/>
<i>חקק, Chapter 29</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Acrylic, diamond dust, silkscreen ink, fiber optic, gesso on wood <br/> 94,1 × 94,1 × 3,2 cm
<i>חקק, Chapter 29</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Silkscreen ink, gesso on wood <br/> 152,4 × 94,1 × 3,2 cm
<i>חקק, Chapter 29</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Silkscreen ink, gesso on wood <br/> 101,6 × 62,9 × 2,5 cm
<i>חקק, Chapter 29</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Silkscreen ink, gesso on wood <br/> 94,1 × 94,1 × 3,2 cm
 

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