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A year before her show at MOCA, R.H. Quaytman took a road trip to the desert to visit Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, the biggest work in MOCA’s collection. Then she decided that her show—which originally, according to curator Bennett Simpson, was meant to be a retrospective—should focus on a new chapter of work, informed by Double Negative. Quaytman, who has been calling her bodies of work “chapters” since the early 2000s, then had to make new paintings, quickly. “I’m opening this chapter just a few weeks before the election,” she said, concerned, in a conversation with German artist Michael Krebber for Interview. “It definitely is my American chapter. It’s red, white, and blue.”
In fact, it is not red, white, and blue. Browns, greens, and blues dominate, and her new paintings—a combination of silkscreen, pigment and, sometimes, lacquer and varnish—span the walls horizontally, creating the ultimate panorama. Her Heizer-inspired Chapter 30 (2016) hangs in the largest gallery, panels stretching and stretching all the way across each wall. In a side gallery, amidst some older work, hangs a piece from O Topico, Chapter 27 (2014), a chapter of work based on a few visits to Brazil. Planet earth, made of polyurethane foam and vibrantly painted, bulges off of a black panel, looking like squished buttocks, though not in a grotesque way. This earth, relatively small, is installed yards away from a room full of understated Western romanticism.
In addition to romanticism, the show’s premise has a nerdy, clichéd quality: how many other American artists have been inspired by Heizer and the Mojave? Yet Quaytman is a nerd, the skilled daughter of artists who has made well-researched, thoughtful, distanced ambivalence her forte. At MOCA, the quiet redundancy of her American chapter is a welcome relief, relegating exceptionalism to the sidelines.
R.H. Quaytman: Morning, Chapter 30 runs October 16, 2016-February 6, 2017 at MOCA (250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012)