New Books by R. H. Quaytman, Klaus Kertess and Bruce Hainley

On the new-book shelf this week we have a handsome, sprawling catalogue of paintings by the New York-based painter R. H. Quaytman, an anthology of writings by the art dealer-critic-Whitney Biennial curator Klaus Kertess and an unusual collection of pieces by critic Bruce Hainley.

Spine
By R. H. Quaytman
415 pp. Sternberg Press. $55.

Over the past decade, painter R. H. Quaytman has steadily risen to become one of contemporary art’s most-celebrated figures. During that time she has produced 20 series of wood-panel paintings that she calls chapters. “This is an archival method that I have resolved to continue without end,” she writes in Spine, a taut catalogue raisonné of those works, which often combine Op art techniques, silkscreened archival photographs and the occasional dash of diamond dust.

“[A]rt historian Yve-Alain Bois made the point that if my work is structured like a book, it would seem necessary for the viewer to know what had happened in previous chapters,” Ms. Quaytman explains of Spine. Thank you, Professor Bois. While some of Ms. Quaytman’s chapters were shown in New York, only the most widely traveled art world denizens will know more than a handful of these works, and it is a treat to have more of this story suddenly available.

The focus is on illustrations and basic details—the rudimentary work of cataloging—but Ms. Quaytman introduces each chapter with succinct explanations for the site-specific and personal sources for the imagery in her paintings. She reveals, for instance, that a newspaper clipping screened onto works from Chapter 1, shown at the Spencer Brownstone Gallery, recounts the horrific death of her grandfather and great-grandfather in 1940 and that a sunlit office in Chapter 11 belonged to the late gallerist Pat Hearn.

An elegiac atmosphere predominates, and it can get heavy at times, though it is interrupted by occasional, welcome erotic pricks, as in the works that show artist K8 Hardy standing naked inside the Whitney.

Bruce Hainley: Pep Talk 5
By Bruce Hainley
111 pp. Pep Talk. $14.

In her introduction to this elegant, albeit slim, anthology of writings by the Southern California-based art critic Bruce Hainley, writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer concludes with “a list of keywords to get in the mood” that includes SEMEN, PROUST, ATOMIC, SEAMEN’S CAP, GENET, TRICK, TRUCK, BUFFY and STURTEVANT. Which is to say that Mr. Hainley’s works are richly informed, gloriously expansive and often thrillingly perverse.

Those adjectives certainly apply to Mr. Hainley’s views on art history and criticism. “Instead of continuing to write impoverished little treatises which frequently obscure rather than clarify what might be seen,” he suggests, “why not embrace the possibility that what is being written is fiction, and that the works … that get the most interesting stories written about them, that can sustain wildly different stories, are the things which seem for a time to be the most relevant.”

Mr. Hainley (who was quoted in a recent piece in The Observer) vigorously adopts this liberating premise, finding fertile ground in seemingly well trammeled parts of art history. He takes Robert Morris’s assertion that Jasper John’s early encaustic works resemble “semen running down a newspaper” for a wild, enlightening joy ride, and delves back into the heyday of Pop and Minimalism to account for Lee Lozano’s late life-as-art pieces.

There are poems by Mr. Hainley, too, and an interview he conducted with the sculptor Vincent Fecteau that meanders from photography to Junior Mints to fashion shows. “I am a promiscuous looker,” he admits in one essay. “I will look at anything.” Thankfully, the same seems to hold true for his writing.

Seen, Written: Selected Essays
By Klaus Kertess
221 pp. Gregory Miller & Co. $25.

Klaus Kertess has had one of the more unusual careers in contemporary art. A co-founder, with Jeff Byers, of the Bykert Gallery in 1966 (where Mary Boone worked before opening her eponymous space), Mr. Kertess has gone on to a second career as a distinguished writer and curator, organizing the 1995 Whitney Biennial and publishing widely.

In these collected essays, most on individual artists, Mr. Kertess combines an eye for formal, technical details with a rare knowledge of personal history. We learn that John Chamberlain began making sponge sculptures, precursors to his foam works, as a guest at dealer Virginia Dwan’s Malibu beach house, and that Peter Hujar sometimes spent hours talking to animals he was planning to photograph.

Mr. Kertess is as astute writing about veterans he showed at Bykert—like Ralph Humphrey and Brice Marden—as he is discussing younger artists like Matthew Ritchie and Chris Ofili, whom he connects with William Blake, Francis Picabia, Philip Guston, Sigmar Polke, Dead Prez and Alice Coltrane. Also here is his essay for the show he curated at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in 2006, which is as vital as any work being done by curators and writers that are half his age.

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