Though working in differing mediums, R.H. Quaytman and Josef Strau’s work can be seen to share a mutually generative intersection of biography and temperament. Biographically both Quaytman and Strau developed their work and careers through close collaboration with other artists and both have run art spaces. Perhaps through these biographical crossovers, both artists appear to share similar concerns with how the textual qualities and references in their work can be documented and explored within the exhibition space.
Quaytman’s method of painting was developed outside of traditional gallery contexts, often showing her work in stairwells, basements and old factories. On one level, Quaytman’s paintings can be seen to function as illustrations, whether to reflect a particular exhibition site’s history or space, to illustrate what paintings do, illustrate what eyes do, or to illustrate the picture itself. As the title of the exhibition ‘iamb’ suggests there is evidence also of an interest in how text can become objectified, broken down and reconstructed to emphasize new meanings and confirm points of potency and stress; an interest she shares with Josef Strau.
In his work Strau emphasizes the primacy of his texts to his overall sculptural practice, using the exhibition space as a prelude to a later period of engagement, through piles of texts presented alongside his lamp sculptures that can be taken away so that perception of the exhibition object is delayed until a later time, or through ways of incorporating text in spatial situations, creating spaces that allow the viewer to experience the physicality of letters or words.
For this exhibition, the first gallery space takes its form from the internal shape of a hybrid letter, an amalgamation of both artist’s initials, RQ/JS. The walls of the freestanding structure that make up this ‘letter form’ have been used to hang various paintings and texts. Strau’s text works, operating as a kind of methodology of automatic voices, have here been printed onto posters and pinned to the walls so that the distinct shape of the space becomes another part of the text. A large painting by Quaytman, also hung from the wall, references a mezzotint by the 19th century British artist John Martin that was used as an illustration for John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. Quaytman’s ongoing interest in the ‘text-lessness of painting’ and how a work’s objectness can be challenged by an awareness and desire for contextuality is played out here both through the reference to Milton’s text and Martin’s illustration and the constructed nature of the space in which the work inhabits. The second gallery space houses a collection of new paintings displayed within a shelving structure. Here visitors can pull paintings from the shelves and hang or prop them on the wall. Some of paintings included here by Quaytman are directly inspired by the formal qualities of Strau’s work, using the imagery of a lamp as if to light the paintings from within.
R.H. Quaytman was born in 1961 in Boston, Massachusetts and lives and works in New York. Quaytman has participated in group shows including Gallery of Contemporary Art in Opole, Poland (2008), Sculpture Center, New York (2006) and P.S.1 Museum, New York (1997). Up until earlier this year Quaytman also co-ran Orchard, a cooperatively organized exhibition and event space in New York’s Lower East Side.
Josef Strau was born in 1957 in Vienna, Austria and lives and works in Berlin. In 2007 he had a solo show at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and has also participated in group shows at Maison populaire, Montreuil, (2008) Portikus, Frankfurt, (2006) White Columns, New York (2006) and Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2002). Strau initiated and ran the non-profit space Galerie Meerrettich in Berlin for many years and currently has a solo show at Malmö Konsthall, Malmö.