Susan Rothenberg
Susan Charna Rothenberg

(1945-01-20)January 20, 1945
Died (aged 75)
EducationCornell University
Known forContemporary art
(m. 1971; div. 1979)
(m. 1989)
AwardsRolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts (2003)

Susan Charna Rothenberg (January 20, 1945 – May 18, 2020) was an American contemporary painter, printmaker, sculptor, and draughtswoman.[1] She became known as an artist through her iconic images of the horse, which synthesized the opposing forces of abstraction and representation.[2]

Early life and education

Rothenberg was born in Buffalo, New York, on January 20, 1945, the daughter of Adele (Cohen), a president of the Buffalo Red Cross, and Leonard Rothenberg, who owned a supermarket chain.[3]

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.[4]

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.[2]


Untitled (Horse) 1976

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."[5]

From the mid-1970s on Rothenberg has been recognized as one of the most innovative and independent artists of her period of contemporary period. During an era 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.[6] 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.[2]

Dominos-Cold (2001) at The Phillips Collection in 2023

After moving to a ranch near Galisteo, New Mexico, her paintings reflected life in the Southwestern United States 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.[2]

In 2010, New York Times art critic David Belcher wrote that comparisons between Rothenberg and Georgia O'Keeffe had "become hard to avoid."[7] 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.[7] Though they both gained inspiration from the New Mexico landscape, Rothenberg's paintings contain a significantly more aggressive quality.

Later career

Although best known as a painter, Rothenberg 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's work has been the subject 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). More recent exhibitions of her work include a retrospective organized by Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (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.[8]

Rothenberg's work was included in the 2022 exhibition Women Painting Women at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.[9]


Rothenberg was 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 and death

Rothenberg was married to sculptor George Trakas from 1971 to 1979. The couple have a daughter, Maggie, born in 1972. She married artist Bruce Nauman in 1989.[10] Her relationship with Nauman, another prominent artist, has prompted more associations with Georgia O'Keeffe because of her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz.[7]

Rothenberg died at her home in Galisteo, New Mexico on May 18, 2020, at age 75.[3][11]

Museum exhibitions


  1. ^ Greenberger, Alex (May 19, 2020). "Susan Rothenberg, Trailblazing Painter with a Taste for the Understated and Indefinable, Is Dead at 75". Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Booker, Margaret (2018). "Rothenberg, Susan". Grove Art Online.
  3. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (May 21, 2020). "Susan Rothenberg, Acclaimed Figurative Painter, Dies at 75". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Susan Rothenberg—Moving In Place (Oct 18, 2009 - Jan 03, 2010) | The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth". Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  6. ^ "Susan Rothenberg | The Broad". Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Belcher, David (April 7, 2010). "Susan Rothenberg, Another Painter in O'Keeffe Territory". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  8. ^ Shear, Michael D. (July 2, 2016). "Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Women Painting Women". Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  10. ^ Plagens, Peter (February 21, 1993). "A Matter of Horsepower". Newsweek. Retrieved June 9, 2015.
  11. ^ "SUSAN ROTHENBERG (1945–2020)". Artforum. May 19, 2020. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Rothenberg, Susan, 1945- (1992). Susan Rothenberg : paintings and drawings. Auping, Michael., Albright-Knox Art Gallery. New York [N.Y.]: Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-1595-1. OCLC 25315872.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)