Susan Rothenberg

When American artist Susan Rothenberg died in May 2020, obituaries described her as a trailblazing artist who spearheaded an influential return to figuration in the mid-1970s.

Rothenberg’s loose, gestural paintings, prints and drawings, usually sparse, stark and in a palette of pink, black and white, stood in opposition to the much more fashionable Minimalist art coming out of New York. ‘Careful consideration was taken of the rules being broken,’ she revealed to New York Times critic Roberta Smith in 1986.

Born in New York in 1945, Rothenberg’s passions were ignited whilst young by trips to the Albright-Know gallery in her hometown of Buffalo. In 1965, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York’s Cornell University. Not long after, she started creating performance art with Joan Jonas.

By 1974, Rothenberg had painted her first picture of a horse — a subject that would come to define her career. ‘People look at the image of a horse and they have associations of power, movement, heaviness,’ she said, reflecting on works like Butterfly (1976), now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Rothenberg held her first solo show in 1975 at 112 Greene Street in New York. It contained three large paintings of horses and was hailed as introducing symbolic imagery to Minimalist Abstraction. The critic Peter Schjeldahl said it was ‘a eureka’, adding ‘the mere reference to something really existing was astonishing.’

During the 1980s, Rothenberg’s repertoire expanded to include human bodies and other animals. In 1990, she moved to Santa Fe, Mexico, with her husband, the artist Bruce Nauman. There she began to paint landscapes and introduced a more complex palette to her work. Her pictures from this period are often compared to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted the same surroundings half a century prior.

Rothenberg participated in three editions of the Whitney Biennale (1979, 1983, 1985), once at the Venice Biennale (1980) and once at Documenta (1992). Between 1983–85, the retrospective Susan Rothenberg toured the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Tate Gallery in London.

Rosenberg’s auction record stands at $1,496,000, paid in 2007 for Diagonal (1975), a painting of a galloping horse.

Susan Rothenberg (b. 1945)

Running with Leg

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (B. 1945)

Three prints by the artist

SUSAN ROTHENBERG

Untitled (May #4) (M. 6)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (B. 1945)

Four Green Lines (Maxwell 18)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (1945-2020)

Four prints by the artist

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (B. 1945)

Untitled (May #3) (Maxwell 5)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (1945-2020)

Between the Eyes

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (B. 1945)

Untitled (May #1) (Maxwell 3)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG

Black Water (M. 25)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG

Puppet (M. 16)

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (B. 1945)

Four Green Lines

SUSAN ROTHENBERG

Three Parts

SUSAN ROTHENBERG (1945-2020)

Little Heads and Hands

SUSAN ROTHENBERG

Four Rays (M. 15)