Rothenberg's Horses: Image vs. Icon
Posted by Andrea D. on November 4, 2009 - 10:51am
Categories: On the Walls


It is a fact of life that Texans don't immediately associate "horses" with "fine art."

It's not our fault. We can blame the "stereotype-that-isn't-really-a-stereotype": the Western mythos of the cowboy and his faithful equine companion patiently herding cattle along the Chisholm Trail is not only the stuff that John Wayne movies are made of, it is also based on historical fact. Especially in Fort Worth, which was once one of the major stops on the Chisholm trail for cowboys and cattle alike, the "Cowtown" legacy is still prominent. Texans consider this tradition to be a part of our cultural heritage, and because of this we don’t really mind when our travels to other parts of the world invite the locals to ask us whether or not we still ride horses to work.

But horses have a long-standing history in art as well. Images of horses that are estimated to be 16,000 years old adorn the walls of caves in Lascaux, France. Countless numbers of kings, military leaders, explorers and diplomats are featured on horseback in their portraits. Eadweard Muybridge pioneered advances in high-speed stop-motion photography with a galloping horse as his subject. The Amon Carter Museum, down the street from the Modern, has an impressive collection of art works documenting the horse and its impact on the American West.

And now the Modern, too, has its own "herd" of art-related horses. But the difference is that many of these horses are not associated with the tradition of cowboys and the Texas frontier. Susan Rothenberg's portrayals of horses in Moving In Place are not meant to be depictions of horses as symbols, they are meant to be different arrangements of horses as shapes and forms, lines and curves of the body. While Rothenberg now lives on a ranch in New Mexico and interacts with horses on a routine basis, her earlier horse paintings are unencumbered with this Westernized convention of the horse, a convention that Richard Prince's more traditional Untitled (Cowboys) #8, or even Deborah Butterfield's Hina sculpture, cannot completely escape. Either way, Susan Rothenberg: Moving in Place definitely presents the locals with a new way of looking at a familiar Texas icon in a different context.