Magazine article Artforum International

Susan Rothenberg: United States

Magazine article Artforum International

Susan Rothenberg: United States

Article excerpt

Turning-points shows in art come with a sense that you know everything about them sub specie aeternitatis. You feel you have a key to artistic significance past, present, and future. This is a mistake. The key has you. The knowledge imparted replaces you, the knower. It assumes you shape, fills your needs as fluid fills a mold. Overload of gratification blows the fuses of your intelligence. You must wait years for your historico-hysterical epiphany to cycle back as cultured common sense. Finally you discover that you were largely right, largely wrong, or nuts.

I was right, wrong, and nuts--and inarticulate and sent--when I saw three big, gawky paintings by Susan Rothenberg at the post-Minimalist-gangster alternative space 112 Greene Street in the autumn of 1975. Those were laboratory days. The show was a eureka. That the paintings were paintings, perfectly comfortable as such in a savagely matter-of-fact raw space, was remarkable. Painting had been dead lately, burnt to a crisp by the phenomenological stare. I was right about this: these were paintings. That they were by someone I had only just heard of, a woman, made it better. An unsuspected reset button had been pushed. New game.

I was wrong about the new game mattering as much as I needed it to matter. I wasn't conscious enough of my role in the transaction: a New York parochial art fancier, nostalgic for the tradition of Abstract Expressionism while committed to accepting the unfriendly news of each new esthetic adventure. Or maybe I did know that, except for "parochial." I was unaware of how the centrality of New York's world view had diminished with the rise of European, notably German wisdoms that I was five years from starting to grasp. If in 1975 you were Gerhard Richter, say, you could have seen at a glance that Rothenberg's triumph was local and concerned mainly with the past.

The nuts part is the whole way of thinking that had me in thrall: comprehending yourself as an organic weather vane, a Romantic gismo for registering history via esthetic sensation. You should have better uses for your life. I didn't. It was my desire to toss my otherwise valueless self into the tribal bonfire of art's illuminati, to make the blaze brighter. This almost never happened. I was forever framing remarks preparatory or retrospective to the big moment. When the big moment arrived, as with Rothenberg's paintings, I was dumbstruck. Nuts.

The critical significance of Rothenberg's 1975 show is accounted in a one-liner that everybody got right away and that has not budged in 18 years: introduces symbolic imagery into Minimalist abstraction. …

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