Barbara Rosenthal

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BARBARA ROSENTHAL is a Conceptual Artist whose major contribution is to have brought content, through the subconscious, to Conceptualism. Whether a work has been physically produced, or exists only as words describing itself, its birth is the direct expression of psychological and metaphysical angst, giving form to existential duress in a symbolic "attempt to come to grips with unbearable realities," as John Russell wrote in The New York Times, of her representation in "Time and Memory: Video Art and Identity," at The Jewish Museum, in NYC, 1988. "An authority born of constant introspection characterizes her photographic meditations Ö and Ö [she} embraces chaos and uncertainty with a persistent grip upon the messy ephemerality of experienceÖ. She ceaselessly shapes and reshapes what may finally be understood as her approaches to a Platonic ideal that lies behind the shifting forms and possibilities of her repeated motifs and variations upon themesÖ. She renders personal adventure on a large and public scale in projects Ö which transgress the conventional limits of her own (and others') privacy," wrote Ellen Handy in Photography Quarterly, about Rosenthal's work in the 1995 exhibition, "Time, Memory, and the Limits of Photography," at the Center For Photography in Woodstock, NY. "All my work is but a reflection of my total cosmology," she quotes Salvador Dali, and creates from a state of trance leading to what Isaac Asimov calls "The Eureka Phenomenon," a method which allies her work with Dada and Surrealism, rather than from the cerebral state of mind that illustrates or promotes pre-developed ideas, a methodology which distinguishes her from fellow contemporary Conceptualists. Working during a generation steeped in overt political reference, she has exhorted (in what might be considered her only artistically political remark), in a citation from Ionesco collaged into the visual poetry of her 1992 Hanging Paper Hallway Installation at the Elston Gallery in NYC, "Let us be on guard against the lie that what is political is also spiritual." Mixed at times with text from literature or science or the journals she has kept since age eleven, her images represent a cosmological nexus, a universality of sensitive human experience, which evokes connection in the viewer. Her iconography, often in long views, and sometimes combined, includes birds and feathers; primates; horses; dogs; fish; trees; water; sky; circuses; twins; hands, feet, and faces of herself and family members; and broken or worn out personal articles such as shattered dishes, old clothing, toys, shoes, and photographed or ripped pages from resonant printed matter. Small editions of usually black and white photographic or text-based paper wall works, video, performance (documentation), installation and language- or media-poetry, sometimes in the form of button pins, are often playful and irreverent, and utilize materials ranging from fragments of scrap paper, cloth, newspaper, xeroxes, and three-dimensional objects, to large fine archival photographic paper, or offset reproduction. And, as she stated in a 1992 panel discussion with Ellen Handy about art-making at The Gallery Of Contemporary Art in Fairfield, Connecticut, many dictums guide her production: that pattern replace color; that as few materials are used as possible; that as little space is used as possible; that there be no embellishment or superfluous element of design; that a work be visible and present new elements at every distance; that a work engage a viewer differently from separate vantages; that a viewer be left room to freely associate; that it reach several centers of the psyche simultaneously; that mystery always be present; that it does not advocate; that it does not repeat or copy past successes; that it can maintain its veracity in an imaginary room of great works; that it be available to everyone and both produced and priced at lowest possible cost. At age 15, when she was told seriously by the psychologist of her high school, where she had been the only girl in a rigorous science program, that "if you start making art now, and work at it, and never stop, you can probably stay out of mental institutions," she began her career as a Painting and Drawing student of Isaac Soyer at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, moving on to the Art Students' League in 1964-66, and, having read about the Happenings of Allan Kaprow, staged her own the in the basement of her parents' small house just over the New York City line in Nassau County. In 1970, she received a B.F.A. in Painting from Carnegie-Mellon University, where she edited "Patterns," the literary-art magazine as a Sophomore and a Senior, spending her Junior year in Rome with Tyler School of Art. At Carnegie, mentors such as Elaine deKooning and Gandy Brodie encouraged her to make art that was "personal." In 1973, she received an M.F.A. in Painting from Queens College/City University of New York, studying with Louis Finkelstein, and upon receiving this degree, at the age of 26, began an unbroken series of part-time, visiting artist, or sabbatical replacement college teaching positions at schools including Parsons School of Design, The School of Visual Arts, The New School, Stephens College, Jersey City State College, Nassau College, Manhattanville College, SUNY/Westbury, SUNY/Purchase, Tisch School of the Arst/NYU, Cornell University, and CUNY/The College of Staten Island, where she has been teaching Writing since 1992. Her art dealers have included Carlo Lamagna, Dooley LeCappellaine, and Monique Goldstrom, and her work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art. She lives and maintains a studio in Westbeth, a federally subsidized artists' housing project in the West Village of Manhattan along the Hudson River. The cemetery plot she purchased in 1984 for future use is located near her mother and grandmother in an overgrown section of Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York. -- Bill Creston, Video Program Initiator, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art ROSENTHAL, Barbara (17 August 1948), is a polyartist. She has produced photographs, videos, super/8 films, objects, games, stories, novels, performances, book-art, and "novelties." Among the last are Button Pins (1995-ongoing); You and I (1986), a card game where, she says, "two players continue to organize and trade word-cards, slowly revealing attitudes toward self and other"; and One 4-Word Book/4 One-Word Books (1995), which is bound shut on both sides, requiring two cuts to reveal contents. Another book, Soul & Psyche (1999), interrupts passages from six years of her journal with pages of photographs, the former written in an orthographic shorthand intended, as she says, to "eliminate every letter in a word unnecssary for its comprehension": Apr 10, 1990. Invitd to ope at newly renovat MoMA. Pitiful art decorat hulkng ovrsiz spce, tru squand rm; storys o vaultng emptnss whr mny xamps fr collec ought b dsplay on firs walls. Arrog wastf archit, profligte, vain, ego-swllng, slf-glorifying. Disaffecting at first perhaps, Rosenthal's prose becomes more familiar and acceptable. Barbara Rosenthal's work tends to be personal, if not autobiographical, each product reflecting her mentality at the time it was made. She writes that art comes from the "artist's psyche, intellect, and personality. It results in deep feelings of universal connection in viewers who pay full attention." Rosenthal's photographs usually portray constrained individuals, aberrant trees, tiny houses, strange neighborhoods, and weird patterns of nature, sometimes accompanied by written comments. Rosenthal has noted that her videos are "rarely screened by many alternative spaces in the U.S. because, as letters regretfully state, 'They don't fit into any category, and aren't like any other artist enough to program with them." To a truly original artist, few rejection letters are so implicitly flattering. Books: Clues to Myself. Rochester, New York, Visual Studies Workshop, 1981; Sensations. Rochester, New York, Visual Studies Workshop, 1984; Homo Futurus, Rochester, New York: Visual Studies Workshop, 1996; Soul & Psyche. Rochester, New York, Visual Studies Workshop, 1999. Interactive Novelties: Numerous objects. New York: Barbara Rosenthal (463 West St., A-628, 10014-2035), 1986-95. Videotapes: Reality Check, -óó et al. New York: Barbara Rosenthal, 1976--. "Deluxe Objects": Pocketful of Poesy, et al. New York, Barbara Rosenthal, 1997--. Films: Pregnancy Dreams. New York: Barbara Rosenthal 1979-94, et al. Multipaneled Conceptual Photographic Wall Works: Photoblock, 1987; Shoes Doubleprint, 1989; Starfish/Fossil/Twins, 1994; Five Houses on the Horizon, 1998; Satchadananda/Fonteyn, 1999, et al. -- Richard Kostelanetz, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (2002)