Becky Suss: The mid-century Modern aesthetic

When I participated in the Review Panel Philadelphia hosted by the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts and artcritical.com last month, one of the exhibitions we discussed was Becky Suss’s eponymously titled first museum solo show, a thought-provoking exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Her beautiful large-scale paintings of interiors and objects and her small ceramics reference objects she recalled from the mid-century modern home of her grandparents, who were left-wing Jews and the children of Eastern European immigrants.

[Image at top: Becky Suss, Living Room (Yogi 2), 2013, oil on linen, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy the artist and Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia.]

Becky Suss, installation view.

Suss’s handsome paintings and carefully crafted ceramics may look austere at first glance. But the show, smartly organized by ICA Associate Curator Kate Kraczon, is on closer inspection visually rich and conceptually sophisticated. Suss’s depiction of handmade artifacts, exotic books, and souvenirs obtained overseas underlines what was novel and progressive before globalization, when traveling abroad was relatively rare. Suss’s grandparents’ enthusiastic embrace of other cultures was a hallmark of their particular cohort. And in coolly recording the belongings of a Cold War era household, Suss reveals the progressive attitudes the period spawned, the tolerance for diverse religious traditions, as well as the country’s growing materialism. Suss’s finely layered exhibition radiates a subtle tension between middle-class comfort, cultural and political engagement, and the unfulfilled optimism of post-World War II America.

 Beck Suss, 1919 Chestnut (Three Cities, The Mother, Kiddush Hashem, Salvation, The Apostle, Mary, Nazarene), 2015, oil on canvas, 84 x 60 inches. 
 Becky Suss, installation view.

Becky Suss,” curated by Kate Kraczon, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA. Through December 27, 2015.

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Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

1 thought on “Becky Suss: The mid-century Modern aesthetic”

  1. Thanks for this very perceptive piece about a fine and thoughtful artist. It's worth noting that until 9/11 produced an ironic kind of nostalgia for the Cold War as a time of relative stability and certainty, that era was was often cast as a distinctly pessimistic one featuring barely sublimated dread about nuclear conflagration–pondered notably by Sigmar Polke, among other artists–that was lifted only by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suss and this post provides a nuanced complementary perspective.

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