Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings: Vivian Suter

Vivian Suter was born in 1949 in Buenos Aires, where her family fled Vienna at the start of World War II. Over the course of her forty-year career, she has lived all over the world. After traveling throughout Latin America in 1983, she decided to settle in Guatemala, in spite of the country’s civil war that lasted until 1996. She lives and works in the village of Panajachel on a former coffee plantation that is abundant with vegetation and surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, and Lake Atitlán. Suter’s process embraces the unpredictability of her natural environment, and the paintings portray its wildness. The artist moves her canvases between the indoor workspace and grounds outside, allowing them to be stained with rain and mud. Leaves and fruits from avocado and mango trees, as well as animals and extreme weather, leave their shadowy traces. In 2005 and 2010, Hurricane Stan and Tropical Storm Agatha flooded Suter’s studio knee-deep, leaving waterlines on the works left hanging in the space. The current display mimics the simple structures she builds to dry, store, stretch, and unstretch her paintings, echoing the artist’s improvisatory style. Suter does not date any of the works; rather, they visually archive a chaotic history.

Vivan Suter has been exhibiting since 1973. In 2017 she will be included in documenta 14, in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany. Her recent exhibitions include a retrospective at Kunsthalle Basel and inclusion in the Thirty-First São Paulo Bienal, both in 2014, and Olinka, or Where Movement Is Created, at Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, in 2013.

Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings is a series of artist commissions at the Jewish Museum. Initiated in 2013, artists from around the globe have been invited to create new art or adapt a work for placement in the entrance lobby. The project builds upon Using Walls, a 1970 exhibition of commissioned artworks installed both within and beyond the gallery space of the Museum’s Warburg Mansion.