Susan Rothenberg. Axes. 1976

Susan Rothenberg Axes 1976

  • Not on view

"By the middle of the '70s," Rothenberg has said, "I sensed that people were tired of Minimal and Conceptual art. It made sense to paint an image of something you could recognize and feel something about." Having found herself doodling a horse on a bit of canvas in 1973, Rothenberg shortly began a series of full-scale paintings of horses. These works anticipated the powerful return of figurative and subjective content in American and European art of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Rothenberg, however, runs the emotional immediacy of figurative art through the filter of abstraction. In Axes, her working of the paint favors its material presence over its illusionistic or expressive possibilities. The body of the horse is a largely flat white—there is little modeling to give it volume or detail to give it character. It shares that white with the ground around it, which it traverses improbably slantwise, and straight lines cross both body and ground, insisting that they are constituents of the same flat surface. The result is neither wholly representational nor wholly abstract, and reflects the ideas of its time even while it breaks from them: "I was able to stick to the philosophy of the day—keeping the painting flat and anti-illusionist—but I also got to use this big, soft, heavy, strong, powerful form."

Axes. 1976

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 290.
Synthetic polymer paint, gesso, charcoal, and pencil on canvas
64 5/8" x 8' 8 7/8" (164.2 x 266.4 cm)
Purchased with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts
Object number
© 2021 Susan Rothenberg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].