New York

Rebecca Quaytman

Spencer Brownstone Gallery

Like a three-dimensional CD-Rom that substituted walking and looking for pointing and clicking, Rebecca Quaytman's exhibition abounded in links among and cross-references between the works, a line of hard-edged abstractions interspersed with photographs silkscreened onto wood panels. With its artworks, images of artworks, and images of people viewing artworks, the show was a sort of sustained inquiry on the subject of looking.

Quaytman is particularly attentive to how the gallery space influences the way we read what's on view. Near the entrance, the viewer found a blue monochrome, Going Here, 1998, with white zips that converge to form a directional arrow. Posing a semantic contradiction like Magritte's pipe, the panel's veils of smoky, transparent blue invite you to linger, yet the arrow directs you to keeping moving toward a group of works on the adjacent wall. Similar paintings were sprinkled throughout the show, nudging the viewer on until a full circuit of the room had been made. Along the way, one encountered recurring motifs (groups of ovals suggesting stylized faces, trapezoids suggesting skewed picture planes) and intriguing comparisons (one of those face works, for instance, Painting for the Gallery Painting, 1998, hung next to Silkscreen of a Photograph of a Model of a Gallery with a Painting in It, 1998, depicting the actual panel installed inside a scale model of this gallery, where it looks gigantic).

What unified this stylistically disparate group was a focus on aspects of visual experience normally overlooked by the gallery-goer. A plywood panel with an off-white ground sports a cluster of ocher zips that precisely mimic the layers visible on its beveled edges; because the beveling is inverted, angling acutely in toward the wall, one is forced to keep moving from the frontal plane of the work to its sides to gauge the faithfulness of the illusion. A pair of photo-silk-screens depicting Dan Graham (for whom Quaytman once worked) staring at some Turner paintings incorporated the normally invisible viewer into the picture plane. Snapshotlike images of Quaytman's mother, the poet Susan Howe, shot in profile and stretched with a computer, are devoid of sentiment, but suggest the autobiographical dimension to the surrounding abstractions.

The interrelationships and site-specificity of Quaytman's work aim to diminish the stature of what she calls the “autonomous bull's-eye masterpiece.” Nevertheless, certain of her own works stood out from their context, crystallizing the show's questioning spirit. Visor, 1997, a tight lattice painted on a gently gradated, light-infused ground, hovered exquisitely between the ethereal and the everyday, evoking the Modernist grid while scrupulously limning furniture cane. In an exhibit where one's judgments about artwork were cross-examined, one felt guilty for singling it out.

Tom Moody