|Susan Rothenberg: Moving in Place
16 October 2009
When Olitski, Rothko, and Rauschenberg were the power players on the SoHo art scene and figuration was all but extinct, Susan Rothenberg decided to make huge paintings of horses. You could feel the wind change at that moment, says curator Michael Auping, recalling his first encounter with her paintings.
Opening Sunday, Susan Rothenberg: Moving in Place, at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, is Aupings fifth solo show of Rothenbergs work and something of a coda for his 30-year investigation of her career. The exhibition focuses on the architecture and motion of Rothenbergs oeuvre with a tight-knit selection of 25 canvases illustrating the artists penchant for splintering her subjects and positioning the fragments as if theyre in transit. She deconstructs almost all of her figures, says Auping. Sometimes theyre tenuously connected; other times, theyre literally flying about the canvas, spinning around the center. Theyre sort of kinesthetic, in much the same way she, herself, is always moving. She paints the way she experiences the world.
The fact that Rothenberg lives on a 700-acre ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico, where she must keep up with her husband, the ever-evolving conceptual artist Bruce Nauman, and their battalion of canines and quarter horses, must have something to do with her energetic outlook. She takes daily three-hour hikes through an arroyo and the hogbacks in the surrounding landscape, during which, Rothenberg says, I got used to seeing lots of different perspectiveslooking up at things, down at things, and into the distanceall at once. The unsteadiness, she explains, felt with paintings like Dogs Killing Rabbit (19912), a tangle of limbs against a white background, might be the reaction when those different points of view are funneled onto one canvas.
Im pretty painterly, says Rothenberg. I love moving paint around and how lively or soft it is. That love affair with oil and acrylics is manifested in works like Ghost Rug (1994), in which roughly hewn eyeballs, representing the artists mother, make tracks across a white Navajo rug, and Orange Break (198990), depicting an orb made of two interlocking figures that seems to flutter. That painting was sort of me finding my way into a new life with Bruce and breaking from my old ways, she says.
The Lascaux-like Cabin Fever, part of the equine series that distinguished her as one of the original Neo-Expressionists, is perhaps her most famous work in the show. I was 27, she says. I hung out with people like Richard Serra, Mary Heilmann, and Joan Jonas in New York. I was there during minimalism, and I understood the painting aspect of it. There werent very many of us. We had to reinvent painting in a way that allowed us to be part of our era.
Mostly background now, the horses Rothenberg rendered at the start of her career were an arbitrary choice of subject. She based her decision solely on finding a recognizable image she could deconstruct. I didnt even know what a horse looked like when I first started, she says. I went to city hall to see the mounted police once to study hooves. But living here among them now, it does seem like a funny coincidence.
- Kimberly Straub