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SFMOMA Debuts New Body of Work by R.H. Quaytman

From October 22, 2010, through January 16, 2011, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present 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.

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

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.

A free illustrated brochure, which includes correspondence between Quaytman and DiQuinzio, will be produced in conjunction with this presentation.


Born in Boston in 1961, R. H. Quaytman lives and works in New York. Over the last decade Quaytman’s practice has encompassed various roles, including artist, writer, and curator. Recently the artist book Allegorical Decoys (2008) was published, in collaboration with the San Francisco design firm General Working Group. As part of an expanded artistic practice, Quaytman was from 2005 to 2008 the director of the collectively run gallery in New York known as Orchard—a loosely knit collective of artists, filmmakers, and art historians widely admired for its innovative conceptual framework that sought to “put the diversity of its members’ practices into discursive motion.”

Quaytman received a BA in painting from Bard College (1983) and attended postgraduate programs at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin (1984) and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques in Paris (1989). Additionaly Quaytman was awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship in 1992. In November 2009 Quaytman’s first solo musueum exhibition was mounted at the ICA Boston, and in November 2010 the artist’s first survey will open at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York. Recent solo exhibitions have been organized at the Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York, and at Silberkuppe, Berlin. Recent group exhibitions include From One O to the Other, Rhea Anastas, R. H. Quaytman and Amy Sillman, Orchard, New York; Painting, Now and Forever, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, and Matthew Marks, New York; Crossing the Line, Queens Museum of Art, Queens, New York; and the 2010 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Quaytman has taught regularly at Bard College’s MFA program since 2004.


Working in Berkeley and San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, Spicer is widely identified with poetry movements that developed in both cities, referred to as the Berkeley Renaissance and the San Francisco Renaissance. Spicer was also involved in visual art circles of the time and in 1954 cofounded the famed Six Gallery, the site associated with the launch of the Beat movement after Allen Ginsberg first read his celebrated poem Howl there the following year. Along with the poet Robert Duncan, Spicer is known for having developed a unique method of serial poetry. A prolific poet, he was also known for his distinctive method of “dictation” and translation, which utilized the letter as a form of poetic interrrogation. In 2008, Wesleyan University Press published a new compilation of Spicer’s poems titled My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian), which won the American Book Award in 2009. Spicer died in San Francisco in 1965 at the age of 40.


From its inception in 1987, SFMOMA’s New Work series was conceived as a means to feature the most innovative expressions of contemporary art. Artists such as Matthew Barney, Marilyn Minter, and Christopher Wool were given their first solo museum exhibitions through the program, establishing the series as an important vehicle for the advancement of new art forms. Over the ensuing decade, New Work featured artists such as Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Tatsuo Miyajima, Doris Salcedo, Luc Tuymans, Kara Walker, and Andrea Zittel, among many others. After a four-year hiatus, SFMOMA reintroduced the New Work series in 2004 and has since showcased work by Edgar Arceneaux, Phil Collins, Rachel Harrison, Wengechi Mutu, Felix Schramm, Paul Sietsema, Lucy McKenzie, Mai-Thu Perret, Ranjani Shettar, Vincent Fecteau, and Mika Rottenberg.

The New Work series is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is generously supported by Collectors Forum, the founding patron of the series. Major funding is also provided by Martha and Bruce Atwater, the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, Ali and John Walecka, and Robin Wright and Ian Reeves.

Lower image: R. H. Quaytman, Chapter 12: iamb (lamp), 2008; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © R. H. Quaytman

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