The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Review by Robin Dluzen
Continuing through February 17, 2013
R. H. Quaytman’s current exhibition, “Passing Through The Opposite of What it Approaches, Chapter 25,” is on display in a particularly idyllic-looking part of town and an evocatively nostalgic venue. Complete with collegiate, ivy-covered stone buildings, this cloistered section of the University of Chicago campus is clearly full of history, which is perfect for Quaytman’s research-based practice. Hers is an approach to painting that is almost entirely dependent upon its “immediate conditions,” making her charged at the outset for uber-site specificity.
The big news out of the Renaissance Society in recent months has been the announcement of Director Susanne Ghez’s retirement after 150 exhibitions and over 40 years of service. Ghez’s powerful, taste-making legacy was shaped through the years with exhibitions of the big-guns of conceptual art like Daniel Buren, whose exhibition here in 1983 is one of the main sources Quaytman embraces throughout the current show. Buren’s French stripes appear as often as Quaytman’s signature stripes (derived from the edges of the wooden panels of her paintings). Buren’s institutional critique and resolute aesthetic echoes in Quaytman’s site-specific content investigation and rigid, self-imposed production parameters.
It’s Quaytman’s project-based research and mining of the non-collecting museum’s archives that turned up Buren’s Chicago-based projects as well as vintage photos of the museum and the world it’s seen: 1970s style classroom furniture, gigantic vehicles, dusty chalkboards, postcards and slide projectors. These outmoded images are screen printed, their reproduction process and impeccably finished surfaces providing a crisp foil to the nostalgia of the photos’ rounded borders and warm, grainy patinas. The space’s layout is employed as a minimalist line drawing; shots of shelves belonging to Associate Curator Hamza Walker are punctuated with Warholian diamond dust and little hand-painted sections.
In this “chapter” of Quaytman’s practice, research turns into homage, with an emphasis on portraiture. Photos of Susanne Ghez and her mentor, art historian Anne Rorimer are repeated. Rorimer appears bathed in light from unseen windows in two paintings behind transparent smudges and artful tears; Ghez, printed in shades of blue, gazes contentedly out a window. In fact, themes of windows appear repeatedly, from the portraits of the women, to the interiors of buildings and Buren’s El Train doors, to the double paintings of a museum window simply stacked upon itself in the piece subtitled, "(Everybody needs at least one window)." With these depictions of windows, Quaytman’s pieces direct us to the place’s actual windows, allowing us to also gaze out and be reminded of the vibrant context of the contemporary campus steeped in history.