Horses, dancers, cyclists, animal carcasses, mannequins—these subjects sustained Susan Rothenberg for nearly half a century. A celebration of Rothenberg’s life and her legacy at MoMA, this exhibition traces the full arc of the artist’s career by presenting 10 of her paintings, drawn from the more than 40 works in all mediums in the Museum’s collection.
Starting out in the early 1970s, Susan Rothenberg resolved “to paint an image of something you could recognize and feel something about”—a bold move at a moment when abstraction dominated New York City’s art scene. She settled on the horse, a subject she believed she could use to “negate painting as much as possible, in terms of illusionism and shadow and composition.” In what would become her signature palette of dirty whites, warm blacks, and muted reds, Rothenberg bisected, isolated, and flattened her equine subjects, positioning their silhouetted forms like totems or glyphs against starkly painted voids.
By the 1980s, she moved to the human body—at times in motion, at times in pieces. “After years of trying to make things static, I was involved in making them move,” she reflected. Inspired by her involvement with avant-garde dance in New York, she made a series of six monumental paintings of dancers—whose floating forms are animated by lively, seemingly pulsating brushstrokes—for the PaineWebber Group’s dining room in Manhattan. In 1990, Rothenberg shifted course once again when she moved to New Mexico, where she often painted scenes from multiple vantage points, depicting objects and experiences inspired by her daily life.
Organized by Cara Manes, Associate Curator, with Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.