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R. H. Quaytman

Wiertz's Revolt, Chapter Zero

10 09 2021 09 01 2022

As part of her research into the artistic history of Brussels, the Anglo-American artist R. H. Quaytman visited the Wiertz Museum. Quaytman asked herself: Who was Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), and why did he turn his studio into a museum? Why did he choose to paint remarkably emancipatory scenes of women in distress on a monumental scale, as well as other gruesome depictions of poverty, war, and suicide?

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R. H. Quaytman - The Modern Subjects of Antoine Wiertz. Studies for Chapter Zero, 2020: Mixed media on paper (Detail). Courtesy the artist and Gladstone gallery, New York, Brussels.

R. H. Quaytman reinvents the production of pictorial images in today’s digital age, reinstating them within the context of art history and of painting in particular, reasserting their materiality and spiritual scope, and deconstructing prevailing narratives from a feminist and intersectional point of view. Her strategies are pictorial, photographic and conceptual, leading to the development of complex groups of works she titles as chapters. Composing each of her exhibitions in relation to a local reference, Quaytman builds her series as a narrative structure that shapes the overall organisational principle and the mode of execution of the individual works.

"The choice of [Antoine Wiertz’s] subject matter suggests a revolutionary ideological orientation supporting the emancipation of women and the poor, and placing the blame at the feet of the military, the state and the rich — although his works on these subjects are displayed to the side of his gargantuan attempts to attain La Gloire."

R. H. Quaytman

For her monographic exhibition at WIELS, R. H. Quaytman explores Brussels’ cultural and artistic history and, more specifically, the relationship to power of some of the artists with whom she shares an affinity, such as Magritte and Broodthaers. In her preparatory research, Quaytman came across the painter Antoine Wiertz and his personal museum, which is now nestled in the heart of the European Quarter. With its unique and spectacular hanging, this museum bears witness to the golden age of monumental painting, which was in the throes of decline in the face of photography and film. Wiertz sought to compensate for this waning with an overabundance of moralising subjects condemning injustice and inequality. He depicted chilling scenes of poverty, war, suicide, or cholera. Now all but forgotten, Wiertz’s work and exuberant museum-sanctuary provide a starting point for Quaytman’s investigation into the possibilities of painting in the context of the photographic image, seen through the prism of Wiertz’s work, which teems with suggestive male bodies while displaying a genuine empathy for the condition of women.

Curators: Devrim Bayar & Dirk Snauwaert

With the support of