Mythological creature: Susan Bee

Susan Bee, “Woman Tormented By Demons,” 2009, oil on linen, 18 x14.”

This week, after a trip to the Venice Biennale, Jerry Saltz worries about the state of the art world and suggests that younger artists have hit a rough patch. At the Biennale he “saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic �institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that�s supposed to be referencing other abstraction�it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the �water. It�s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements….Instead of enlarging our view of being human, it contains safe rehashing of received ideas about received ideas.”

Mira Schor responds on her blog with an essay and some excerpts from her 2009 book, Decade of Negative Thinking. “Saltz doesn�t seem to question his own underlying assumption that interesting new work would come only from the young or that it would be easily visible or foregrounded in mainstream exhibitions and media. This is a reflexive point of view shared by many in art journalism and academia, where only the new and the young are conceived to be contemporary or marketable, even though given the generational political conditions many including now Saltz have noted and that I describe in my book, it is possible that this new and young generation has been shaped for conformism to a corporate ideal, albeit a newly global one, in such a way that they are the last place to look for interesting art that would break any molds.”

Lending considerable force to this point, Susan Bee, Schor’s co-editor for M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists Writings, Theory, and Criticism (and of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online), at A.I.R. presents three separate series of bright, small-scale paintings that explore emotional conflict, trauma, and personal narrative in a movingly idiosyncratic way. The first series translates stills from old film noir. The second focuses on romantic landscape paintings by artists like Caspar David Friedrich, Marsden Hartley, and Charles Burchfield. The third series, which incorporates illustrated collage elements, features mythological and religious figures. When I see shows like this, it becomes clear that  talented mature artists are making penetrating and imaginative work. They just don’t get invited to the international biennials.

Susan Bee, “Shattered,”2010,  oil on linen, 18 x 14.”  Collection of Norman Fischer.

Susan Bee, “Through a Glass Darkly,” 2010,  oil, enamel, and sand on linen, 14 x 18.” Collection of Peter and Susan Straub.

Susan Bee, “Autumn Fantasy,” 2011, oil on linen, 18 x 14.” Collection of Leslee Smoke.
 Susan Bee at A.I.R., installation view.

Susan Bee: Recalculating (New Paintings),” A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. through June 19, 2011.

Bonus video: Mira Schor reads from her essay “Recipe Art.”


  1. thanks for being reasonable AND insightful.

  2. Reading Saltz' comment, I can't help but feel a little bit insecure about my own work not measuring up, but I have always thought that the greatest art is the result of a private and personal journey that often takes decades to really materialize.

    Great post!


  3. To your Jerry Saltz comments. I don't get why u bother, Jerry Saltz is a reviewer who can't see the forest for the tree. He is no Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster, Buchloh, Kuspit, etc. who have staked out positions in the critical legacy. Jerry is more like Rosi Braidotti's definition of capitalism 'like a kid on crack'. This is the man who recently wrote of the good virtue's of Mark Grotjahn's, "… the images aren�t taken mechanically from newspapers, the Internet, or other media; his paintings aren�t comments about comments about Warhol; they�re not coolly ironic." He forgets he not too long ago named Jeff Koons the artist of the decade, who does precisely that.

  4. Great Post and lovely to come upon Susan's work here. Us "mature" artists are blooming out all over.
    What I find particularly hopeful is how well young undergrads respond to such work.

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