Meditations on Susan Rothenberg, Re-Openings Here and There, and News from Members
I have been mulling over the life and career of Susan Rothenberg ever since her death was announced earlier last week. Rothenberg, in case you’ve been totally out of the loop, enjoyed a certain mythic stature in the annals of contemporary art. As the obituaries and tributes all note, she was “one of the shrewdest and most fearless painters of our times” (ARTnews), who “helped usher figuration back into art” (The New York Times). Of her first paintings, incorporating monumental horses, New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl opined, “The works conveyed anger, exaltation, and self-abandoning intrepidity. They felt personal, albeit on a grand scale. In an era preoccupied with what to do in art and how to do it, Rothenberg addressed and answered a rarer question: Why?”
I still remember seeing those paintings in the late 1970s, as a wee graduate student in art history, and like others was stunned by what Schjeldahl termed “a rebirth of Expressionism” at a time when Minimalism and formalist abstraction still held sway. They pulsed with the kind of energy that sucked me into Kokoschka as a teenager, without in any way seeming retrograde or sentimental. And, as far as I can tell from perusing images on the Internet, Rothenberg maintained a high level of magic during her 30 years in New Mexico, where she relocated after marrying Bruce Nauman in 1989. (I haven’t seen as much of her painting as I would have liked in the last decade or so.)
As Schjeldahl also noted, the artist never enjoyed a major museum retrospective during her lifetime. Nor has there been a full-dress profile of Rothenberg since Grace Glueck wrote about her for The New York Times in 1984. (In Calvin Tomkins’ lengthy overview of Bruce Nauman’s life and career in The New Yorker in 2009, Rothenberg rates only three or four paragraphs.) She did not even rank among Artnet’s “Most Expensive Living Female Painters” in the last round-up, published three years ago.
Susan Rothenberg, For the Light (19178-79), acrylic and vinyl on canvas, 105 by 87 inches
So what gives if so many concur that she was one of the greats of the last half-century? Did moving away from New York cost her in visibility? How about marriage to Nauman, arguably considered by Tomkins and others the most influential artist of his generation? Did that overshadow her own accomplishments? Why some people become art stars and others not is a question that has long intrigued me (how is it that Laura Owens and Cindy Sherman earned mid-career retrospectives at the Whitney and MoMA, respectively, but not Rothenberg?) Is it about politics, cronyism, sexism, who’s who on the board of directors, who socializes with what curators, who gets the most attention from the press? Or some alchemy of all these forces?
I have no easy answers, but the questions seem always worth raising. And, once this Covid-19 mess is over and done with, I sure would love to see museum galleries filled with Rothenberg’s vibrant and unsettling reminders that painting can still knock your socks off.
And here’s what members are up to these days….
On Friday, May 29 from 1 to 2 p.m. East Coast time, Arlene Rush is conducting a virtual studio tour in conjunction with the Pelham Art Center. This is a chance to visit Arlene’s Chelsea studio (site of a couple of Vasari21 holiday parties), where she’s been working for the past 20-some years in a huge range of mediums, from steel and other metals to resin, polyurethane, fabric, glass, found materials, photography and cement. As I wrote in a profile of the artist a few years ago, many of her works have a quirky feminist bent or reflect a profound interest in Buddhism. She’s a lively charismatic person, and a visit to her sanctum sanctorum should give some insights into not just her own history but the evolution of this landmark neighborhood. For more information, click here.
Rush in her New York studio
Santa Fe area artist Timothy Nero is also hosting a virtual tour of his studio in Glorieta, NM, on Tuesday, June 2, from 5.30 to 6.15 p.m. Mountain Time. "I have developed a visual language that continuously cycles through my work, whether it is painting, drawing or sculpture,” Nero writes. “The forms can be seen as lines of reason, unraveling and severed gordian knots, loosened dendrites and coils of thought, advancing and receding in a brooding atmospheric almost baroque space.” Click here to register through Santa Fe Art Tours.
Timothy Nero, Congealed Sky (2015), acrylic on canvas, 53.75 by 87 inches
In news of online exhibitions, Carolyn Oberst is part of “Touch,” presented in honor of Mother’s Day by Yi Gallery in Brooklyn, NY (fellow V21 member Etty Yaniv is also participating). “My works are from two seemingly very different series,” writes Oberst. “The painting entitled Alone/Together is from the current 'Back Story' series, in which the figures play with how profile, contour, posture and gesture have the ability to communicate traits about anonymous subjects. The second painting in the show is from a series called 'Ducks in Flux' (2013-14). While very different in their outcome and source material, these two works share some similar impulses. There is a strategic juxtaposition of organic and geometric forms in my compositions which serve as a way of visualizing the internal impulses of the mind. Shapes representing reason and order stand in for past subjective experiences.”
Carolyn Oberst, Ducks in Flux 3 (2013), oil on Arches paper, 22 by 20 inches
“’MarinScapes’ is a wonderful event that celebrates the natural beauty of Marin, California,” writes June Yokell. “Due to concerns about large social gatherings, this final ‘MarinScapes’ is going virtual with an online gallery. Over 30 artists exhibit and donate a percentage of their sales to Buckelew Programs mental health and addiction recovery programs.” Sales begin this Thursday, May 28, and end Sunday the 31st at 7 p.m. One of Yokell’s available paintings is titled Early Morning after a Swim (2019), below. “For the last four years, I have been leaving the house by 5:20 in the morning in order to dive into the pool, complete my swim, and work in the studio,” Yokell says. “As many of you know, Bay Area traffic can be a bear in the mornings and evenings, so I adjusted my schedule to avoid the worst of the traffic. Right now, I’m working at home and sadly, not going swimming as pools are still closed.” For more details on the auction, click here.
June Yokell, Early morning After a Swim (2019), acrylic on canvas, 36 by 60 inches
Through mid-September, Elizabeth Wiseman is in a real live show that you can actually attend in the flesh, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 to 5 p.m. “The gallery, Plan B Arts, is a new venture, started by artists Beth Schmohr and Stephen Robeck, both of whom relocated to Santa Fe last summer,” Wiseman writes. “They opened Plan B Arts soon after and are hanging in there in spite of the coronavirus situation. Schmohr and Robeck had approached me last fall about participating in a show of local artists, and now here we are, making it happen.” Wiseman’s works in the show come from her “Anthropocene Collection,” which, she says, “speaks to the future and the many transitions that will culminate finally, into a new balance. We can't know what that will look like. The unknown might occupy as much space as the known. The landscape might feel familiar, but well-known features might be altered, or gone.”
Elizabeth Wiseman, New World (2018) acrylic on canvas, 36 by 36 inches
Karen Fitzgerald announces the launch of the Spliced Connector group at Shim Art Network on Artsy.net. “’Spliced has grown out of a project I did with a cohort of MFA students at Long Island University at Post,” she writes. “We are an artist collective based on the idea that multigenerational diversity enriches creativity and expression for everyone. Started by artists affiliated with LIU, ‘Spliced’ now openly advocates for unexpected collaborations, intergenerational connection, and vibrant art making.” You can see the inaugural exhibition here, and below are a few of the artists on Artsy.net.
Robert Parker sent an email to say that he’s been busy in lockdown, completing four canvases that relate to his earlier works in high-keyed colors and irregular shapes. “This is in contrast to my normal full-frame imagery that fills all of the canvas,” he writes. “The icons do not relate to anything specific, although in this time of pandemic, they perhaps offer hope, and a sense of positive outlook that colors and shapes impart, and take us outside of ourselves. I hope they impart a three-dimensional aspect without being overly coy. The icons are all consistent with the geometric, hard-edge abstraction that has been with me for many years. We all need relief of visual excitement, even in self-isolation.”
Robert A. Parker, Muslin Icon 4 (2020), acrylic on muslin, 22 by 22 inches
Jane Guthridge is part of a show called “Power & Fragility” at the Walker Fine Art Center in Denver, CO, that opened Friday the 22nd and runs through August 1. The six artists in the exhibition “draw their inspiration from the organic world around them as well as their internal atmospheres, creating multi-media artworks that reflect, evoke or transform element of the self within the natural world,” says the announcement. Guthridge reports that the timed entry on opening night, allowing 10 visitors wearing masks into the 4,000-square-foot space at intervals, was a tremendous success, “People had so many kind words of admiration and encouragement,” says director and owner Bobbi Walker. “There was plenty of room for people to see the art and we were so pleased to find a safe and considerate way for people to feel comfortable to come out and socially distance.”
Jane Guthridge, Light Waterfall (2020), EcoResin and stainless steel cable, 14 by 6 by 3 feet, dimensions variable
Also part of the trend toward gradual re-openings on the gallery front, Max Baseman has a new show at 5. Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, and he’s happy to lead visitors on a walk-through by appointment (505.257.8417). Called “Visual Limits,” the exhibition includes some gallery regulars--like Stuart Arends, Wes Mills, Bruce of Los Angeles, Allan Graham, Marc Baseman, and Philadelphia Wireman—along with newcomers Debbie Long and Joel-Peter Witkin. It’s an intriguing mix, ably curated, in one of the more adventurous spaces in Santa Fe. Installation shot below.
I’m delighted to announce that the documentary about one of my favorite sculptors, Ursula von Rydingsvard (which I’ve seen in an online version), is available for streaming at the bargain price of $9.99, starting May 29 at 12 a.m. for 48 hours. (The price of “admission” helps support the Film Forum, one of the last great art film houses in New York.) Directed and photographed by Daniel Traub, the documentary “illuminates the fascinating journey of Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942)—her difficult early life in a family of nine emigrating to the US after five years in post-WWII German Displaced Persons camps, a traumatic first marriage, her arrival in 1970s New York to establish herself as an artist, and the staggering, triumphant body of work she subsequently produced,” says the press release. For more about Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own, click here.
Ursula von Rydingsvard, Bronze Bowl with Lace (2014), installation view, the Art Institute of Chicago
In miscellaneous news, I talked with Carol Kino at the tail end of her tenure as a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. The prestigious grant, awarded to only 15 applicants out of a pool of 481 applicants, gave her an office in the main building on 42nd Street and the resources of one of the greatest libraries in the world for the academic year 2019-2020. That writerly idyll, alas, was cut short by Covid-19, but Kino reports that she was able to make significant headway on her book The Fair-Haired Girls (to be published by Scribner), about a pair of identical twins who pioneered fashion photography in the 1940s. Francis McLaughlin-Gill, the first woman to be hired for the Vogue studio by the legendary Alexander Liberman, specialized in “the kind of photos that look as if they could have been taken today,” says Kino. Her sister, Kathryn Abbe, was an assistant to Toni Frissell and worked on magazines like Charm and Mademoiselle, in their day the first to target an audience of young career women. I hope to bring you more about the twins and Kino’s book later this summer.
And to round out the holiday weekend, a couple more masks!
Susan Schwalb, who is in transition from her former home in Watertown, MA, to New York City, wears a face covering made by her niece featuring all the news that’s fit to print (on fabric, at least).
Claudia Renfro claims she found this a “few years ago rummaging around in the woods. It hung on my studio wall for quite a while. Thinking about our current state, I pulled it out …how perfect for these times!” She adds that it’s a “combination of a heavy-duty war gas mask, medieval torture device, mythological creature, and self-portrait.”
I have not stumbled across much in the way of new relief funds for artists affected by Covid-19, but Vasari21 member Lynda Keeler alerted me to Desert X, a newly-established relief initiative that has secured in excess of $34,000 to date for artists in Southern California, an area defined to include Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. One-time unrestricted cash grants of $1,000 will be administered on a rolling basis until the fund is complete. It doesn't seem to have been tapped out yet, so for details, click here.
Along with the galleries, museums are gradually re-opening to the public, with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the San Antonio Museum, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art on the docket to admit the first visitors since the outbreak of the pandemic in the weeks ahead. There will be restrictions, of course. At the MFA Houston, “you will have to wear a mask, submit to a temperature check and agree to leave if you show signs of illness,” reports Robin Pogrebin of the New York Times. But “the unpredictability of the coronavirus trajectory has made reopening dates something of a moving target.” I will keep you posted on the museum scene as best I can.
And my thanks to more donors from the fall fundraising drive
“With a background in sculpture and printmaking, besides the creative drive and the results of exploration, I enjoy the physical aspect of making art which seems to embody my paintings as well as the wood constructions: scraping away layers of paint to reveal hidden gems, much like an archeologist,” writes Hilary Goldblatt on her website. “Since process is paramount in my work, the journey is what drives my interest. The discoveries that I make along the way, which are often a delightful surprise, create a climate for further exploration.”
Hilary Goldblatt, Thin Pink Line (2020), mixed media on clayboard, 10 by 10 inches
My neighbor Patti Day worked with another Taos friend, Deborah McLean, to construct this enchanting box (8 by 5 by 2 inches). As I recall, she is using these as repositories for family photos, but I sure wish she’d give one to me!
“My work is concerned with the relationship of humanity and nature,” writes Tony Moore. “I conceive of an expanded concept of ‘Nature’ as embodying all existence, both the seen and unseen, socio-political events, daily occurrences, as well as private intuitions that are made concrete through creative action. My objects are places of remembrance where multiplicities of associations take place. Most recently these have been concerned with issues of the human condition. In recent large ceramic sculptures, I reference a meaningful text from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. where he speaks of ‘The Injustice of Silence’: 'History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy.' I consider these words to parallel contemporary socio-political issues.”
Tony Moore, Injustice of Silence (2017), wood-fired ceramic, porcelain, glass, steel, 63 by 25 by 25 inches
“I visited the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland,” wrote Christine Migala way back in late November 2019. “This natural rock formation is dramatic and awe-inspiring. I wanted to create the unique energy and magic I experienced while there.”
Christine Migala, Imbued Wonder (2018), oil on canvas, 50 by 63 inches
"In my ‘Blue’ series, I use colors that reflect all the warmth of the Mediterranean sun,” writes Helene Mukhtar. “Stylized shapes evolve across the canvas in a sensuous and graceful dance while playing hide-and-reveal with blue color fields. In my most recent work, I’ve started incorporating three-dimensional color panels to the painted canvas. More and more, I find myself devoting time to my animations and installations in which I use videos, animated drawings, characters from my paintings and computer digital designs.”
Helene Mukhtar, Blue 6 (2019), acrylic on canvas with painted plexiglass, three-dimensional panels, 35 by 36 inches
And that, my friends, is enough for one week.
In my conversation yesterday with Carol Kino, a fellow journalist with far more impressive credentials than mine, we noted how the coronavirus seems to have robbed us of words, both in everyday speech and occasionally in writing. She has successfully weathered a bout with Covid-19 (I have no such excuses), but the Pandemic Fog Brain does seem to be my m.o. these days. Hence I’m not quite as productive as I would like to be.
But there will be more posts in the weeks ahead, more artist responses to the pandemic, more profiles for Under the Radar, and more news of re-openings as we inch toward some facsimile of the way we were.
Meantime, stay safe! Wear your mask! Wash your hands! Eat your vegetables!
Top: Susan Rothenberg, Pin Wheel (1988), oil on canvas, 94 by 142 inches