For “Momentum 15,” R. H. Quaytman’s upcoming solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Quaytman has created paintings inspired by the past exhibitions and educational mission of the ICA, its history of presenting the “contemporary,” and the architecture of the Momentum gallery. In the Boston Globe Cate McQuaid talks with the artist and the exhibition’s curator, Jen Mergel.
“Quaytman started working in groups when she was a student. ‘I couldn’t figure out a painting that stood alone. I had to make two or three,’’ she recalls. ‘I stuck with that problem: That will be the foundation of how I figure out how to make paintings.’’ She also worked for a time as a curator at PS 1 in New York. ‘I had the experience of hanging paintings together and seeing how they are changed by their vicinity,’ she says. It’s fitting that Quaytman’s first solo museum show should be in Boston. The artist, whose first name is Rebecca, was born here. Her grandmother, Mary Manning, was a founder of the Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge. Her aunt, poet Fanny Howe, still lives in the area. Her mother, poet Susan Howe, grew up here and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where she met painter Harvey Quaytman. ‘And that’s where I was conceived,’ Quaytman, 48, wryly admits. ‘By mistake. They were both young.’ In one way, ‘Momentum’’ nods to that family history. ‘I do think my work references poetry,’’ she says. ‘You can read it. They’re like sentences….’
“In addition to her personal associations with the ICA, Quaytman examines the institution’s role over the years, with silkscreen paintings of archival photos taken from mid-20th-century exhibitions, including two images with patterned Op Art arrow paintings that resemble her own. ‘The ICA has a history of presenting art of our time. But look at the archive photos of the past installations, and they feel dated,’ says curator Jen Mergel. ‘Rebecca’s asking: In 2049, what will feel contemporary? Will I be in the storage rack?’ The artist has also hand-painted text from the museum’s 1948 announcement of a name change, from the Institute of Modern Art to the Institute of Contemporary Art. In the announcement, the museum’s board president and director argued that despite modern art’s laudable revolutionary beginnings at the Armory Show in 1913, it had since inspired ‘a cult of bewilderment’’ and had come to ‘signify for millions something unintelligible, even meaningless.’
“’They’re talking about the public’s fear of art,’ Quaytman says. She doesn’t want the viewer to be afraid. ‘I make all these bridges from one painting to the next,’ she says. ‘So there is an answer. There is meaning.’’’
“Momentum 15: R.H. Quaytman,” curated by Jen Mergel, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA. Opens on Wednesday. Through March 28, 2010.