Susan Rothenberg

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Susan Rothenberg
Untitled (Horse) 1979
Susan Rothenberg's painting
Born1945 (age 74–75)
EducationCornell University
Known forContemporary art
AwardsRolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts (2003)

Susan Rothenberg (born 1945) is an American contemporary painter, printmaker, sculptor, and draughtswoman. She has achieved a place of prominence through her iconic images of the horse, in which she synthesized the opposing forces of abstraction and representation.[1] She lives and works in New Mexico, USA.

Early life and education[edit]

Rothenberg was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1945. In 1965 she graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. In 1967 she went to Washington, D.C., and studied at George Washington University and the Corcoran Museum School.[2] In 1969 she moved to New York, where she became a member of a dedicated community of artists. Through large acrylic paintings featuring emblematic, life-sized images of horses, largely monochromatic, she established her reputation in the New York art world in the early 1970s.[1]


Rothenberg’s first solo exhibition in New York in 1975 was at the 112 Greene Street Gallery. Consisting of three large-scale paintings of horses, it was heralded for introducing imagery into minimalist abstraction, while bringing a new sensitivity to figuration. Critic Peter Schjeldahl called the show "a eureka," stating that "the large format of the pictures was a gesture of ambition," and that "the mere reference to something really existing was astonishing."

Since the mid-1970s, Rothenberg has been recognized as one of the most innovative and independent artists of the contemporary period. During a time period when minimalism was at the forefront of the New York Art scene, she stood out because of her reintroduction of expression and figuration. Rothenberg’s horse figures of the 70s contained some degree of minimalism because of their repetitive qualities, her hectic yet loose rendering of the figures blended the earlier conventions of abstract expressionism and color field painting.[3] By the early 1980s, she was focusing on disembodied heads and body parts, and by the end of the decade she was painting complex and symbolic figurative works full of color and movement.[1]

At mid-career, she moved to a ranch near Galisteo, N.M. Thereafter her paintings reflected life in the Southwest and became suffused with color. Beginning in the 1990s, she used the 'memory of observed and experienced events' (a riding accident, a near-fatal bee sting, and other events) as the inspiration for her subjects and adopted oil paint as her favored medium. As in her earlier works, these paintings are distinguished by thickly layered, energetic brushwork and exhibit her interest in exploring the relationship between images and surface.[1]

In 2010, New York Times art critic David Belcher wrote that comparisons between Rothenberg and Georgia O'Keeffe had "become hard to avoid."[4] From her early years in SoHo through her move to New Mexico's desert landscape, Rothenberg has remained as influenced and challenged by her physical surroundings as she is by artistic issues and personal experiences. In addition to her earliest horse paintings, Rothenberg has taken on numerous forms as subject matter, such as dancing figures, heads and bodies, animals, and atmospheric landscapes. Rothenberg's visceral canvases have continued to evolve, as she explores the boundary between figural representation and abstraction; her work also examines the role of color and light, and the translation of her personal experience to a painterly surface.

However, Rothenberg has challenged these comparisons to O'Keeffe, stating that they are "completely different people" with different artistic energies.[5] Though they both have gained inspiration from the New Mexico landscape, Rothenberg's paintings contain a significantly more aggressive quality.

Later career[edit]

Although best known as a painter, Rothenberg has also made crucial contributions to the medium of drawing. On the occasion of her 2004 exhibition of drawings at Sperone Westwater, Robert Storr wrote, "...fundamentally, drawing is as much a matter of evocation as it is of depiction, of identifying the primary qualities of things in the world and transposing them without a loss of quiddity. This at any rate is what drawing has been for Rothenberg."


Rothenberg has had solo exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. Her first major survey, initiated by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Institute, and the Tate Gallery, London, among other institutions (1983–1985). Recent exhibitions include a retrospective organized by Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo (1992–1994), which traveled to Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Chicago, and Seattle (1992); a retrospective at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Monterrey, Mexico (1996); a survey of prints and drawings presented by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (1998); and Susan Rothenberg: Paintings from the Nineties at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1999).

Her 1976 work "Butterfly" was displayed in the Treaty Room of the White House during the Obama Administration.[6]


Rothenberg has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant (1979), the Cornell University Alumni Award (1998), the Skowhegan Medal for Painting (1998), and Sweden's Rolf Schock Prize (2003).

Personal life[edit]

Rothenberg was married to sculptor George Trakas from 1971-1979. The couple have a daughter, Maggie, born in 1972. She married the artist Bruce Nauman in 1989.[7] Her relationship with Nauman, another prominent artist, has prompted more associations with Georgia O'Keeffe because of her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz.[8]

Museum exhibitions[edit]

  • 1978 "Susan Rothenberg, Recent Work," Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 20 May – 2 July (catalogue)
  • 1981–1982 “Susan Rothenberg,” Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, 3 October – 15 November; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, 7 December – 31 January; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark, 13 March – 2 May (catalogue); “Susan Rothenberg,” Akron Art Museum, Ohio, 21 November – 10 January
  • 1982 “Susan Rothenberg: Recent Paintings,” Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 14 October – 29 November (catalogue)
  • 1983–1985 “Susan Rothenberg,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, 1 September – 16 October; San Francisco Museum of Art, California, 10 November – 25 December; Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 18 January – 18 March 1984; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 10 April – 3 June; Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, Colorado, 1 July – 19 August; Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, 9 September – 21 October; Tate Gallery, London, 21 November – 20 January 1985; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 26 February – 27 March (catalogue); “Currents,” ICA, Boston, April.
  • 1985 “Centric 13: Susan Rothenberg—Works on Paper,” University Art Museum, California State Center, Long Beach, 12 March – 21 April; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, 21 June – 28 July (catalogue); “Susan Rothenberg, Prints,” Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, September – October
  • 1988 “Drawing Now: Susan Rothenberg,” Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland, 23 February – 4 April
  • 1990 “Susan Rothenberg,” Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, Malmo, Sweden, 30 June – 17 August 1990 (catalogue)
  • 1992–94 "Susan Rothenberg, Paintings and Drawings, 1974–1992," Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 14 November 1992 – 3 January *1993; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 10 February – 9 May 1993: The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO., 27 May – 25 July 1993; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 20 August – 24 October 1993; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA., 17 November – 9 January 1994; The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, 30 January – 27 March 1994 (catalogue)
  • 1995 "Focus Series," Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 18 February – 2 July
  • 1996–97 "Susan Rothenberg," MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico, 4 October 1996 – 19 January 1997 (catalogue)
  • 1998–99 "Susan Rothenberg: Drawings and Prints," Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 22 August – 25 October; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI, 15 January–14 March; Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM, 21 March – 24 May (catalogue)
  • 1999–2000 "Susan Rothenberg: Paintings from the 90's," Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MFA, 18 November 1999 – 17 January 2000 (Catalogue)
  • 2009–2010 "Susan Rothenberg: Moving In Place," Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX, 18 October 2009 – 3 January 2010
  • 2016 "Susan Rothenberg," Sperone Westwater, New York, NY, 4 November – 20 December 2016


  1. ^ a b c d Booker, Margaret (2018). "Rothenberg, Susan". Grove Art Online.
  2. ^ Handy, Amy (1989). "Artist's Biographies - Susan Rothenberg". In Randy Rosen; Catherine C. Brower (eds.). Making Their Mark. Women Artists Move into the Mainstream, 1970-1985. Abbeville Press. pp. 258–259. ISBN 0-89659-959-0.
  3. ^ "Susan Rothenberg | The Broad". Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  4. ^ Belcher, David (8 April 2010). "Another Painter in O'Keefe Territory". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Belcher, David (2010-04-07). "Susan Rothenberg, Another Painter in O'Keeffe Territory". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  6. ^ Shear, Michael D. (2 July 2016). "Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Plagens, Peter. "A Matter of Horsepower". Newsweek. Retrieved June 9, 2015.
  8. ^ Belcher, David (2010-04-07). "Susan Rothenberg, Another Painter in O'Keeffe Territory". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-19.


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