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"Susan Rothenberg: Paintings from the Nineties"
1999-11-18 until 2000-01-17
Museum of Fine Art
Boston, MA, USA United States of America

Susan Rothenberg (born in 1945) first gained critical attention in the mid-1970s, when she introduced the simple outline image of a horse into the austere, canvas plane of Minimalism. Like her peers, she considered the materials of the artist, but rather than denying the use of illusion in painting, she instead explored the relationship between the figure and the painted ground. Since then, Rothenberg has received international acclaim for her paintings, drawings, and prints. Because she has maintained a strict reliance upon imagery throughout her career and wrestled with the lessons of Modernism, she has often been a singular voice in contemporary painting. At the same time, her physical approach and gestural application of paint place her in the tradition of an earlier generation of American painters that includes Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In 1990 Rothenberg moved permanently from New York to New Mexico with her husband, artist Bruce Nauman. The paintings she has completed in this once-new environment were stimulated by life on the ranch and the light-filled landscape of her surroundings. This exhibition provides the first opportunity to consider this body of work.

Normal activities on the ranch supplied Rothenberg with some of the subjects of her paintings, as in Dogs Killing Rabbit (1990–91) and the two Accident paintings, on the theme of a rider thrown from a horse. However, more important than the depicted scene is Rothenberg’s attention to the relationship between the varying images in the final composition. She is calculating in her placement of the fractured legs, arms, and faces scattered throughout these paintings. In contrast to the specificity of these earlier canvases, the scenes found in the four panels of Spanish Dancer #1–4 (1994–96) suggest a story that remains mysterious. Here, rather than simply creating a narrative, Rothenberg instead employs a perplexing sequence that she constructs with figures and the manipulation of brilliant color.

In addition to continuing to explore color, Rothenberg has also considered viewpoints that vary from her previous paintings. The position of the viewer changes from that of multiple points that suggest the passage of time, in her earliest paintings, to being in close proximity to the subject, as found in her most recent paintings. Her later compositions appear to be less about an event and more about a painter who is attempting to compose something new with her developing skills and experience.

While stimulated by New Mexico’s environment, Rothenberg’s paintings from the nineties are—above all else—reflective of the artist’s increasingly complex relationship with her medium. We are pleased to present the first exhibition of these recent paintings by one of today’s most critically recognized artists.

Cheryl Brutvan is the Beal Curator of Contemporary Art in the Department of Contemporary Art

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