Episode #099: Filmed at her home and studio in New Mexico, artist Susan Rothenberg explains how she transforms personal experiences and feelings into works that can become an “emotional moment” for the viewer. While discussing the loss of her dog, Rothenberg describes the process of recovering a memory of her pet through the act of painting.
Susan Rothenberg’s early work—large acrylic, figurative paintings—came to prominence in the 1970s New York art world, a time and place almost completely dominated and defined by Minimalist aesthetics and theories. The first body of work for which she became known centered on life-sized images of horses. Glyph-like and iconic, these images are not so much abstracted as pared down to their most essential elements. The horses, along with fragmented body parts (heads, eyes, and hands) are almost totemic, like primitive symbols, and serve as formal elements through which Rothenberg investigated the meaning, mechanics, and essence of painting. Rothenberg’s paintings since the 1990s reflect her move from New York to New Mexico, her adoption of oil painting, and her new-found interest in using the memory of observed and experienced events (a riding accident, a near-fatal bee sting, walking the dog, a game of poker or dominoes) as an armature for creating a painting. These scenes excerpted from daily life, whether highlighting an untoward event or a moment of remembrance, come to life through Rothenberg’s thickly layered and nervous brushwork. A distinctive characteristic of these paintings is a tilted perspective in which the vantage point is located high above the ground. A common experience in the New Mexico landscape, this unexpected perspective invests the work with an eerily objective psychological edge.
The exhibition Susan Rothenberg: Moving in Place is currently on view at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico (through May 16, 2010). Co-organized by the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth, the exhibition’s installation in Santa Fe showcases the relationship between O’Keeffe and Rothenberg: “each has established a significant place and artistic identity in the American Southwest, an area initially defined as a male domain in that the majority of its early Anglo visitors and inhabitants — explorers, ethnographers, photographers, traders, cattle ranchers, and cowboys — were men.”
Melancholy photographs, bronze truisms, museum interventions, a giant battleship, and more in today’s roundup:
- Tonight at 6pm, Season 5 artist Doris Salcedo will speak at the Americas Society in New York City. The event is part of Vis-à-vis, a series of conversation between artists, curators, and critics from the Western Hemisphere. Salcedo (who created a colossal crack in the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2007) is among the nearly 200 artists, architects, and designers invited to imagine interventions in the Guggenheim’s famed rotunda for the exhibition Contemplating the Void. According to Artistbloc.com, Salcedo’s “mash-up art piece [at the Guggenheim] combines a downward view of the rotunda with a photograph of a New York tenement by the German-born artist Hans Haacke. The tenement photograph, part of his series documenting the holdings of a local real-estate baron, was scheduled to be featured in the 1971 Haacke show at the Guggenheim that was canceled for what were widely believed at the time to be political concerns by the museum’s director.” At the Americas Society Salcedo, and artist Javier Téllez, will discuss their work, artistic visions, and related issues in contemporary art. Click here to register for the event.
- On March 26, Guggenheim New York will open Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance, a two-part exhibition that surveys photographic imagery since the 1960s that “seems to view history with melancholy or mourning.” Drawn primarily from the Guggenheim Museum collection, Haunted will feature recent acquisitions, many of which will be exhibited by the museum for the first time. Included in the show are works by Art21 artists Sally Mann (Season 1), Roni Horn, Hiroshi Sugimoto (both Season 3), An-My Lê (Season 4), and Cindy Sherman (Season 5). Haunted, part one, runs through September 6. Part two opens June 4.
- On March 24 at 4pm, Season 4 artist Alfredo Jaar will lecture at the University of Connecticut about his work around the Rwandan genocide. His six-year investigative piece, The Rwanda Project, 1994-2000, was created in response to “the criminal indifference of the world community in the face of a genocide that claimed one million lives.” Eight years after Jaar completed The Rwanda Project, he was invited to create a monument to victims of the genocide. As part of his design process, he visited existing memorials and accumulated new visual materials that are at the center of his new work, We wish to inform you that we didn’t know, a three-channel video, on view at the University of Connecticut’s Contemporary Arts Gallery through April 22.
- Season 5 artist Yinka Shonibare MBE is making history with a new commission for the Fourth Plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square. According to Sun News, his installation will be the first commission to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of the Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar. It is also the first of such commissions by a black artist. Scheduled to be unveiled on May 24, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle is a 16 x 8 foot replica of the battleship HMS Victory set in a giant bottle. Listen to the artist discuss the project here.
- Season 4 artist Jenny Holzer is recipient of the 6th Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts, presented by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Established in 1994 to recognize “the many gifted women providing leadership and innovation in the visual arts, dance, music, and literature,” the bronze plaque given to each recipient was designed by Holzer and features one of her truisms: “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.” An award luncheon will be held in Holzer’s honor on April 28.
- About Jenny Holzer (2009), a documentary film about the artist, will screen at Montreal’s Festival International of Films on Art (FIFA). Directed by Claudia Müller, who followed Holzer over a ten-year period, the film traces the artist’s career from the late 1970s to her LED installations of today. FIFA continues through March 28. (Also screening at FIFA is “Transformations,” the Season 5 episode of Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century featuring Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy and Yinka Shonibare MBE.)
- How to Appear Invisible (2009), a film by Allora & Calzadilla (Season 4) that documents the demolition of a prominent landmark of the former German Democratic Republic, is showing at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver through April 25. The piece is part of the group exhibition After the Gold Rush, which explores post-event “afterness.” The show is meant to call attention to Vancouver’s own experience post-Olympic Games.
- White Snow, a solo exhibition of work by Season 5 artist Paul McCarthy, opens at Hauser & Wirth, New York on November 5. The gallery will debut pieces from a new body of work that draws upon the famous 19th century German folk tale Snow White (Schneewittchen), and comments on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s 1937 interpretation of the story. A reception will be held at the gallery on Thursday, November 4, 6-8pm.
- McCarthy’s work is also on view at Dean Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. His 1995 video Painter, a satire of the artist as lonely genius in his studio, is shown next to the gallery’s permanent installation Paolozzi Studio, a recreation of Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi’s working space. By juxtaposing Painter and Studio, the gallery aims to “cast a second glance at how museums present the making of art.” Continues through February 14, 2010.
- Opening November 17 at Hauser & Wirth, London, After Awkward Objects brings together works by Louise Bourgeois (Season 1), Lynda Benglis, and Alina Szapocznikow. The exhibition is inspired by Awkward Objects, a presentation of pioneering women artists at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw earlier this year.
- Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis, at the newly remodeled El Museo del Barrio, highlights key artists from the Caribbean and Latin America who lived in New York City before World War II and participated in the development of the American avant-garde. A sculpture by Season 1 artist Pepón Osorio titled La Cama (The Bed) is pictured in the New York Times review. Nexus New York continues through February 28, 2010.
- The first major exhibition of works by Jenny Holzer (Season 4) to be held in a Swiss museum is on view at The Fondation Beyeler through January 24, 2010. The exhibition includes important works from various phases of Holzer’s career, but focuses on recent works, some of which will be shown in Europe for the first time. In addition to the museum space, the exhibition will extend to the public, with light projections planned for buildings and sites in Basel and Zurich.
- Moving in Place is an exhibition of 25 paintings by Season 3 artist Susan Rothenberg at the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth, Texas. Though Rothenberg is best known for her horse paintings (the Obamas have borrowed one from the National Gallery of Art for the White House), the Modern’s Chief Curator, Michael Auping says, “Rather than focusing on Rothenberg’s famous early horse paintings as the beginning of a symbolic, figurative evolution, we are looking at the artist’s work from a more holistic, formal standpoint, identifying her unusual way of organizing pictorial space, regardless of the figurative content.” Continues through January 3, 2010.
- Works by Gabriel Orozco (Season 2), Roni Horn (Season 3), Francis Alÿs, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Rodney Graham, On Kawara, Thomas Nozkowski, Laura Owens, Dieter Roth, and Franz West are included the exhibition Continuous Present at Yale University Art Gallery. Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe writes, “Everything that is most endearing about the current state of contemporary art and much that niggles rises to the surface of Continuous Present.” Read Smee’s review here.
- Over the weekend, Krzysztof Wodiczko (Season 3) was also featured in the Boston Globe for his video installation, The Veterans Project, at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston. Wodiczko has focused on veterans engaged in active combat in Iraq, as well as Iraqi civilians, looking at their shared experience of chaos and confusion brought about by the war. On Veterans Day, November 11, ICA Director of Programs David Henry will moderate a discussion between Wodiczko and project participants.
- Five Themes, a solo exhibition of work by Season 5 artist William Kentridge, opens at the Norton Museum of Art in Miami on November 7. This comprehensive survey gathers nearly 75 works of animated film, drawing, print, sculpture and other forms, and is structured around five primary themes in Kentridge’s work, such as apartheid and imperialism. Co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), a web-based interactive for the exhibition is available on the SFMOMA website. Five Themes is on view at the Norton through January 17, 2010.
This week I’d like to breathe a blissful sigh after a quiet vacation AND take on the Flashpoints question for August…
Does art expand our ability to imagine?
My gut reaction is Yes, but it can deaden that ability, too. Let’s face it, bad art or art that has become wallpaper over time can prohibit the imagination from taking off at all. I’m thinking of classrooms or studios that hardly ever change. The same things hang on the walls and take strategic positions in the floor plan year after year. The same posters and the same, um, motivational banners (you know… YOU CAN DO IT, etc.) become a brittle yellow after semesters of hanging on for dear life by four pieces of masking tape.
Art studios and classrooms where students and aspiring artists learn have the opportunity to inspire and nudge the imagination through their very presence in the space. For example, having two different places in a room dedicated to visuals related to the current unit of study and to new art and artists being “discovered” by students and teachers creates a scenario where very different art is often being juxtaposed and discussed. This leads to students asking questions, and we all know good questions is what it’s all about. Obviously, having another area or separate gallery display space for student work samples from the most recent unit can provoke ideas and possible options for the current theme or question students are exploring.
Now, if you’re working in a classroom on a daily basis, I know what many of you are thinking:
- What if I don’t have the space (or a room!)?
- Where do I find visuals?! I’m lucky to have a computer, and the only visuals in my classroom are bad freebies from conferences in 1986 and 1992, respectively.
Let’s look at each of these questions, at least one of which probably apply in a vast majority of classrooms all over the country.
If you do not have the space or are faced with the huge challenge of traveling to different classrooms to teach art, visuals can be “stored” (and sometimes, in a way that’s even more organized than having a space in the classroom) on flip charts and displayed when required on a simple easel. The flip chart pad can be arranged by units of study. While it may be cumbersome to carry around, it’s certainly better than shuffling magazine cutouts and trying to “share” these with classes of 30 or more.
If you are in a position where your school, district or university simply doesn’t have funding to update print and poster samples (and at this point, who does?), then slideshows shared in the classroom and later e-mailed to students can have positive effects as far as expanding student thinking. As a matter of fact, some students will appreciate the opportunity to linger on images outside of the classroom. Teachers can also make good use of free resources from museums, alternative spaces and galleries (press kits, anyone?) in order to keep the images hanging in the classroom thought-provoking rather than mind-numbing.
I think most art educators believe art can absolutely expand our ability to imagine. We just need to steer clear of the wallpaper.
Both Susan Rothenberg’s “Galisteo Creek” and the photograph of Gabriel Orozco were compared in a classroom conversation about taking “artist walks”.
The new thing at Tate Modern, three rooms of mainly huge paintings from the 1980s, is timelier than it knows. These works are taken from the UBS collection, the investment bank that has funded the rehang of the Tate Modern permanent collection. As part of the deal, excerpts from UBS’ massive collection of works of art from the 50s to today are to be intermittently displayed to—this from the UBS website—”complement and strengthen the gallery’s own permanent collection.” UBS performed a similar feat in 2005 at the then just-opened MoMA in New York, displaying a large number of mainly huge paintings as the inaugural show in the top-floor exhibition spaces (to, it has to be said, a largely negative response). Now, not all of UBS’ collection consists of mainly huge paintings; it’s just that mainly huge paintings have of late taken on an unexpectedly affecting archaism, even anachronism. I walked around the three rooms of the display as though in a hall full of dinosaur bones. I overheard people saying, “Whoa – are those plates?” and “God, that’s a lot of paint,” much as kids say “Is that its head?” and “That was really alive once?”
It’s fatuous fun to play connect-the-dots between these stegosaurian remnants of a flush decade and the art of our own recent history, substituting Koons, Hirst, and Murakami for Paladino, Penck, and Salle. Yet there’s no doubt that textbooks written on the art of the pre-recession 2000s will use either a bejeweled skull, aluminum puppy, or Vuitton bag as its symbolic cover image. It’s also probably too much of a cheap shot to mentally relocate these vast works back to the boardrooms and corner offices in which they and works like them formed a splashy backdrop for billion-dollar deals. It’s not the art’s fault that it’s become, in the popular imagination, as inextricably linked with an idea of what the 80s were like as precipitous shoulderpads and stonewashed jeans. Potted versions of history hinder really looking at things, and art can’t be held responsible for its provenance nor be made to epitomize its epoch—one marked not by uniformity but by multifariousness in all strands of culture. All periods of time are cursed by history, doomed to be distilled into a succession of single moments, and the 80s always gets off worst. The UBS website neatly sums it up as “the decade of greed, hostile takeovers, rising share prices, and junk bonds.” Mental images are great for theme parties but a little misleading when it comes to art, and the 80s, more than any other decade, survives as a series of embarrassing stills, like a slideshow of a bad holiday.
The 80s revival of expressionistic painting must be the most maligned of all moments in art history. Its patron saint, Julian Schnabel, has managed to about-face his career to such an extent that new audiences will discover his output in reverse, which many people would say isn’t such a bad thing. Schnabel has received, and continues to receive, a critical kicking for his perceived (ok, actual) arrogance about the importance of his work, most notably from Robert Hughes (he still refuses to discuss Hughes, as seen in his tantrum on 60 Minutes recently). The Tate is showing Schnabel’s Humanity Asleep from 1982, one of the works in the display owned by the gallery, and almost certainly the first time it’s been dragged out of the storeroom since about 1986. (The works in the show owned by Tate—Christopher leBrun and AR Penck among them—were all acquired within a year of their making, perhaps to recompense for the timidity of British art buying in the first half of the century, and have rarely been shown since then). Humanity Asleep is a massive (get used to it) painting on a plane of smashed saucers, showing the head of fellow artist Francesco Clemente alongside an unidentifiable other floating on a raft beneath a hovering St. Michael. The reference to classic history painting (the raft/The Raft) is of a piece with the historical brassiness of its time. It’s an unlovely painting that doesn’t aim to be loved but to be as awesome and dynamic as a wall-sized Gericault. And it is exciting to look at, in a kind of irrefutable muscular way: it’s a piece of self-mythologizing on a par with Matthew Barney, taking as its source the flotsam of a restless historical memory. It’s a bit facile to see the shards of crockery as representations of the fragmented modern consciousness, as Schnabel apologists often do (regurgitating that TS Eliot quote every time). What Schnabel is doing is not introspective and “irony-inflected” but energetic and assertive, giving painting a workout, telling it to get down and give him twenty. I nearly did.
The show’s big flaw is its lack of any work by female painters, the few figurative painters of that time whose star appears not to have waned, at least not as dramatically as those of their muscle-flexing male counterparts. The absence of work by Susan Rothenberg, Ida Applebroog, and Elizabeth Murray leaves a gaping hole in the show’s claims to encapsulate its time, giving it a lopsidedness and portentousness that would have been leavened by these artists’ more tentative and playful approaches. Clemente’s hilarious 1984 Self Portrait—a portrait of the artist as pensive troll—does lighten the load somewhat, and Enzo Cucchi’s fiery Leone dei Mari Mediterranea from 1979-80 sets a beaming masklike face (a Demoiselle on a good day) hurtling over a tiny green horse in a boat on a crimson sea. It’s a piece of whimsical myth-making told with a fluttering brush that’s a world away from the ham-fisted Sandro Chia on the opposite wall. What they share, though, is an urgency: to reassert painting’s role as supreme storyteller, something rarely found within the avant-garde tradition.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric of the show takes a reductive approach, slotting these wildly divergent artists into a historical continuum as though all of them swore a solemn oath to react against minimalism by asserting the creepy-sounding “artist’s hand.” The brochure for the show (no catalogue, sadly) claims that “what these artists share, in spite of their age and geographical differences, is their reaction to the art that dominated the preceding decade…minimalism and conceptualism.” The UBS collection website sums up the work along similar lines: “Turning against minimalism, the eighties see a return to more expressive forms of art.”
The dialectic of action/reaction is the dominant one in discussions of 20th-century art, and it makes all artists look like angsty teenagers trying to wind up their parents. Of course, the physicality of painting—and physicality is very much in evidence here; it’s a bit like going into a gym after Christmas, all mad sweaty grunting—can be just as conceptual, just as ideas-led as anything hands-off and self-consciously intellectual produced under the banner of conceptualism. It’s an old argument, which goes back to da Vinci’s paragones, his sniffy separation of making and thinking which values ideas over production. And it’s one that dominates our (still) post-Duchampian expectations of what art should be about (a standpoint held in place by institutions like the Tate), which leaves artists who assert making and telling somewhat in the shade. It’s also what makes them worth looking at, now of all times.
Last month, five different Art21 artists were featured in the first five pages of Scholastic Art magazine, an issue that celebrated contemporary women artists including Laylah Ali (featured on the cover), Margaret Kilgallen, Kiki Smith, Susan Rothenberg, and Ida Applebroog. While the overly simplified titles of the two articles, “Drawing People” and “Sketching Animals,” didn’t exactly make me lean forward in my seat, the fact that Scholastic Art has made the move (and not just with this issue) to more comprehensively include contemporary art in the magazine is encouraging. Most art educators have memories, whether they are fond or frustrating, of utilizing Scholastic Art in our classrooms. But often, we would find more than one or two issues in a relatively short time span devoted to telling stories and sharing techniques that had been shared before…and perhaps before that. Images of certain artists and artworks forced some things to be pushed into the “Stairway to Heaven” category—a classic you just don’t want to hear (or see) anymore.
In the February issue of Scholastic Art students and teachers can learn about one of the approaches Laylah Ali uses to pull viewers into her paintings and the kinds of women Margaret Kilgallen features in her work. Readers can also learn more about Ida Applebroog’s strategy of separating her paintings into panels and about Susan Rothenberg’s dreamlike drawings. The second article even concludes with a description of the etching technique used in Kiki Smith’s Wolf Girl.
Besides Scholastic Art and the usual mix of glossy art mags available in art classrooms, are there other magazines—online or hard copy—that you are using in the classroom? BOMB has become a favorite for many of the classes I work with specifically because it features artists talking with other artists. Other suggestions?
At Sperone Westwater, pioneer painter Susan Rothenberg exhibits new works on canvas that depict fragmented compositions of the human body. The thickly applied oil paintings are a departure from recent imagery influenced by the Season 3 artist’s physical surroundings in the New Mexico desert.
Though referencing the human form, Rothenberg’s favored minimal, expressionist mark-making here articulates “disembodied puppet legs, heads and arms to demonstrate how the representation of the figure can be transformed into a study of space and form.”
The exhibit opens February 19 and runs through April 11.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an amazing program where students can borrow a framed work by major artists from their List Visual Arts Center‘s collection for an entire academic year. The Student Loan Art Program was founded in 1996 and boasts of over 400 pieces with which your dormroom can be beautified. There are plenty of big names on the list including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Sol LeWitt, and Ed Ruscha to name a few, as well as many Art:21 artists like Allora & Calzadilla, Ida Applebroog, Roni Horn, Gabriel Orozco, Susan Rothenberg, Collier Schorr, Laurie Simmons, Nancy Spero, Richard Tuttle, and Fred Wilson. At the top of my own M.I.T. wishlist would be Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Cooling Tower. Learn more about the Student Loan Art Program here.
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the MATRIX exhibition program with a year-long series of events, beginning with MATRIX/REDUX (on view through July 6). The MATRIX format—spontaneous, flexible, small-scale, and short-term—was “key to engendering experimentation on the part of both the artists and the institution, resulting in a mix of exhibitions that defied categorization and kept Berkeley at the forefront of international contemporary art,” according to the BAM/PFA website.
MATRIX/REDUX samples from the history of this important program with selections from the Museum’s collection and loans from local collections rarely seen by museum audiences. Included in the exhibition is Crèche (1997), a group of bronze fox, deer, bats, mice, rabbits, and owls, created by Art21 artist Kiki Smith (Season 2). Past participants of the MATRIX program that have also been featured by Art21 include Louise Bourgeois (Season 2), Alfredo Jaar (Season 4), Elizabeth Murray (Season 2), Susan Rothenberg (Season 3), and Richard Serra (Season 1).
An exhibition of paintings by Susan Rothenberg (Season 3) closes today at Bernier-Eliades Gallery in Athens, Greece. Rothenberg’s paintings, through “thickly layered and intense brushwork…depict scenes from everyday life‚Äîeither an unpleasant event or a moment of remembrance. A distinctive element of these works is a tilted perspective which attributes an eerily objective psychological edge.”
Founded over thirty years ago, Bernier-Eliades Gallery has helped introduce Greece to artist currents such as Arte Povera, Minimalism, Land and Conceptual Art, and a generation of American and European contemporary artists. As Rothenberg mentions in her Art21 interview “Gestures,” she lived in Greece for a period during her 20s. Rothenberg is represented locally by Sperone Westwater Gallery, which also offers works by Art21 artists Laurie Simmons, Bruce Nauman, Richard Tuttle and William Wegman.