Chicago

View of “R. H. Quaytman,” 2013. Foreground: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (12 3/8 x 20“). Background: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (37 x 60”).

View of “R. H. Quaytman,” 2013. Foreground: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (12 3/8 x 20“). Background: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (37 x 60”).

R. H. Quaytman

The Renaissance Society

View of “R. H. Quaytman,” 2013. Foreground: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (12 3/8 x 20“). Background: Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25 (After James Coleman’s slide piece), 2012 (37 x 60”).

The screenprinted and gessoed varnished panels of R. H. Quaytman speak foremost, perhaps, to a discourse of painting, but also to that of photography, sculpture (the panels are thick, often painted on multiple sides, and at times may be physically handled by viewers), and even literature (exhibitions are organized according to “chapters”), among other forms. For Quaytman’s recent exhibition at the Renaissance Society, “Passing Through the Opposite of What It Approaches, Chapter 25,” projection emerged as a central theme. Not only did pictorial references—works featuring installation views of a James Coleman slide show, an X-ray previously exhibited by Isa Genzken of the German artist’s own skull—to this subject abound, but the near holographic quality of Quaytman’s surfaces rendered these images as if projected. Likewise, mixtures of pigment and gesso seemed to glow from beneath intricate Op patterns, so that, as though being transmitted, the image itself appeared to be in motion. Consisting largely of silk screens of recent portraits or installation photographs from the Renaissance Society’s archives, the exhibition unfolded like an accumulation of rooms with no clear entry.

And indeed, from projection, architecture closely follows, as the former assumes, in the words of scholar Tom Gunning, the “dual role of canceling out and conjuring up space.” This was particularly evident in After James Coleman’s slide piece (to give only the work’s identifying subtitle; all works 2012), which features an installation shot of a projector that partially illuminates a darkened gallery; the screen, no longer a portal, has been blanked out by a white gesso ground. Quaytman pointedly amplifies this tension between constituting and eliminating space, nearly always laying down some degree of surface “interference” between the viewer and the sites within sites that her paintings depict. For example, two pieces that share the exhibition’s title and feature an image of the gallery (as it appeared in 1990, installed with work by Conceptual artist Niele Toroni) doubled the viewer’s perspective. Yet the effect was stopped short by, on one hand, hand-applied Buren-like stripes and, on the other, thin, vertical stripes that, appearing like the spine of a book, divided the painting in two. Resonating with Bruce Nauman’s description of abstraction as “two kinds of information that don’t line up,” the work vibrates between opposites (surface and perspective, figuration and abstraction) that lose their autonomy as such.

Permutations of inner and outer space in Quaytman’s compositions, however, extend beyond pictorial play. The figuration of particular people, the social infrastructure (both actual and the more abstractly influential) that informed the show’s production, takes equal precedence. Among those appearing here were the institution’s longtime director (and curator of this show), Susanne Ghez, as well as curator Anne Rorimer, with whom Ghez organized important exhibitions of Conceptual art in the 1970s and ’80s. The gallery’s architect, John Vinci, was represented too, through the teaching slides he used to show Mies van der Rohe’s nearby Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior.

As references grew apparent, the interpolation of subjects and space likewise became visible. For a particularly literal example, take the exhibition’s sole truly three-dimensional work, a twenty-one-by-thirty-one-by-seven-inch white box, open just slightly on one side and featuring a corner mirror that reflects a miniature painting by Quaytman—depicting Dan Graham’s 1976 installation Public Space/Two Audiences, as it appears in a well-circulated photograph taken by Rorimer—tucked nearly out of sight. At the same time, it also captures the image of the viewer, flattening the two together on a single plane. This pictorializing of the person examining a painterly translation of a photograph of an installation that was itself an optical device speaks to Quaytman’s interest in a recursivity that, in 1969, cybernetic post-Minimalist Paul Ryan compellingly described as the “power to take in our own outside.”

Quaytman’s nearly empty spaces and analogical correspondences—rendered in color schemes (the University of Chicago’s maroon against Buren’s aquamarine) and materials (diamond dust and silver foil!) extravagantly discordant enough to introduce an aspect of glamour—invoke the legacy of queer aesthetic practices as much as modernism’s aftereffects. Quaytman’s is a proposition less about the artist’s identity than about painting as a syntax that has become queer. In other words, outside and inside at once.

Solveig Nelson