Susan Rothenberg, the painter who came to prominence in the 1970s with her bold, gestural canvases of glyph-like figures and animals, has died, aged 75. The death was confirmed by her longtime gallery Sperone Westwater, though a cause of death has not yet been made public.
After studying sculpture at Cornell University in the 1960s, Rothenberg moved to New York City where she worked with performance artists and dancers, collaborating with Joan Jonas and others. In an interview with the television series Art21 in 2005, she says that eventually she “started making more paintings, trying to figure out my identity,” adding, “when I stumbled on the horse I went, okay, this can be my Jasper Johns flag. This can be nothing to me because I don’t like horses. I can draw a line through it and make it flat, I can take all the things that I’ve learned in the last couple years and negate painting as much as possible in terms of illusionism, shadow, and composition.”
Rothenberg’s 1975 solo show at 112 Greene Street, in which the artist displayed three large paintings of horses, was heralded as a brave departure from the Minimalist methods that dominated the SoHo art scene at the time. For the next five years, Rothenberg focused on this equestrian motif. A 1976 show of such paintings was heralded by the New York Times critic Hilton Kramer, who wrote: ”It is the quality of the painting that is so impressive, the authority with which a highly simplified image is transformed into a pictorial experience of great sensitivity and even grandeur.” One painting from that year eventually made it into the Obama White House. This series led to her inclusion in the pivotal 1978 show New Image Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art.