BAM Hangs Abstractions by Harvey Quaytman

The New York abstract painter had a long, respected career of varied work, combining aspects of Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Process Art.


Quaytman’s Harmonica YP is at Berkeley Art Museum.

Photo courtesy BAM

In recent years, there’s been a lot of valuable expansion of the canon of recognized artists beyond white maledom, but let’s not forget that, to paraphrase Mao, men hold up half the sky, too.

The New York abstract painter Harvey Quaytman (1937-2002), white and male, had a long, respected career, but somehow his work eluded me, out in the provinces. His varied work, which combines aspects of Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Process Art (and thus eludes a signature style), gets a respectful retrospective in Harvey Quaytman: Against the Static, featuring 70 works from his four-decade career (represented most of that time by the McKee Gallery).

Curator Apsara diQuinzio writes: “While his works display a rigorous experimentation with formalism and materiality, they are simultaneously invested with rich undertones of sensuality, complexity, and humor.”

The show’s title derives from Quaytman’s summa: “My entire enterprise is against [the] static.” Beginning as an Abstract Expressionist in the Gorky/deKooning mold, the artist, influenced by the hard-edged geometric abstraction of the 1960s, moved to flat, iconic shapes and symmetrical compositions (often made subtly asymmetrical with small details). He created shaped, i.e., nonrectangular, curved works in the 1960s and 1970s; returned to the rectangle a decade later; and then moved on a cruciform composition for formal, not religious reasons. Quaytman’s paintings, however, are executed in a painterly, tactile manner unusual for his generation, intent to freeing itself from AbEx gesture and subjectivity—“the hand” of the artist. (That doctrinaire flatness of the 1960s paint surfaces was jauntily parodied by Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word (1975)).

DiQuinzio, on Quaytman’s independent stance: “[C]onsiderations of line, distilled geometric forms, materiality, atmosphere, and texture all coalesce. The totality of Quaytman’s highly original body of work places him squarely within the tradition of modernist painting, yet it also proves him to be one of its most capable and unsung explorers.”

Harvey Quaytman: Against the Static runs through Jan. 27, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808,

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