HALL OF PORTRAITS FROM THE HISTORY OF MACHINES
JUNE 3 - JULY 31

  • Opening Reception / Meet the Artist: Friday, June 3 / 5-8pm
  • Free and open to the public
  • Opening Reception coincides with Art Round Town*


"Mining the archive is like building a time machine; I look at the material culture of the past as a way of understanding what has come into being in our contemporary times.
" – Sue Johnson


Exhibit Statement:
All spaces hold art in different ways. With Sue Johnson's exhibit, 3S Artspace is not only exhibiting Sue Johnson's first solo show in New England— 3S is also providing the first opportunity for the artist to exhibit nine monumental works in a single space. Each of Sue's works is extraordinary and thought-provoking on its own, but shown together, they create a singular and timely experience for artist and viewer, enveloping us in a surreal interpretation of the role of women in the home and in society.

Artist Statement:
Sue Johnson’s Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines constructs a disquieting satire that proposes an alternative pictorial history in which two objects of desire become one — the household convenience object and the emergent female form. The artist looks back to the commercial culture of mid-20th century America that championed progress, new technologies and a pursuit of the latest model. It was during this time that the new modern woman began to be idealized as sharing attributes with objects of domestic convenience, efficiency, and planned obsolescence. Mining the archive of material culture from advertising to the mass-produced objects that the artist collects, photographs, and ultimately transforms in her work, labor-saving domestic machines merge with the body – or vice-versa. The surreal, hybrid forms created by Johnson seem familiar yet at the same time we know they are actually a highly fictional, patriarchal fantasy.

At its foundation, this is also an autobiographical project insofar as Johnson creates a methodological time machine to reimagine what her mother experienced navigating the consumer culture of the mid-century modern era, an era in which the artist was born and raised. For more than a decade, she has been collecting and poring over vintage magazines that were aimed at the female consumer of the 1940s to 1970s – the very same publications her mother read, and like so many women of that time, was influenced by – Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Redbook, Seventeen, McCall’s Magazine, Woman’s Day, Harper’s Bazaar, Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, The American Home, Woman’s Home Companion, Mademoiselle and Vogue.

The project’s new modernized women comprise a taxonomy of the gendered roles, postures, stereotypes, and archetypes with which Americans, all of us, have been, and still are, inculcated and bombarded. To emphasize this artificiality while embracing the surface of the real, each digitally stitched together hybrid female form is first printed out large on canvas and then surrounded by a color-field hand-made by the artist as she performs the repetitive domestic actions of dragging, pressing, and scraping household devices through and into the paint. The painted textures are derived from assorted brands of disposable paper towels and coffee filters, window screening, machine-made lace, anonymously authored embroidery fragments, window cleaning squeegees, and DIY wood graining tools.

Based on authentic historical source materials, Johnson’s alternative vision presents itself as a cautionary tale. The cyborg-like hybridity of the images conveys a history that reveals how women have been dehumanized while at the same time idealized and desired for machine-like domestic functionality and push-button compliance. Although the surrounding color fields are hand-painted, the images of the new women are purposely not painted in the artist’s own hand but rather are constructed from an admixture of photographic sources that retain the pixelization and halftone signatures of the mass-produced image. If hand-painted, the role of the artist would be foregrounded as the inventor of the image, superseding and overwriting the intended message, which is that modern culture itself has created these idealized, problematic images for consumption. Images of the new women complete an implied narrative arc in which women are and have been constructed to be both the consumers and the consumed at the same time. There is a self-awareness, or an emerging consciousness of this predicament embedded in the new fictionalized yet also historically accurate representations of the female form. At their monumental size shown in this exhibition, each portrait measures 109.25 inches tall, which is the exact height of Marcel Duchamp’s seminal work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even also known as The Large Glass (1915-23). In making this reference, the project seeks to invite a deeper look at the invention and representation of woman as an ambivalent modern object, both inanimate and animate.


Acknowledgements:
These works were created during a residency at The Sam and Adele Golden Foundation with additional fellowship support from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Photography: Richard Walker Photography

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Sue Johnson bio:
Sue Johnson (American, born San Francisco, CA, 1957) is an internationally exhibited artist whose works combine installation, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, found objects and artist books. She earned an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Columbia University and a BFA in Painting from Syracuse University, with additional study in London and Florence with Syracuse University. Johnson's artworks and multiple media installations are revisionist in method creating plausible fictions that run both parallel and counter to canonical histories. Projects focus on topics that include the origins of museums, cabinets of curiosities and “lost” collections, the picturing of nature and women, the domestic universe and consumer culture – and collectively, defy easy categorization.

Johnson’s work has been the subject of over forty solo exhibitions at venues that include the Tweed Museum of Art (Duluth, MN), Jan Cicero Gallery (Chicago, IL), Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, Hollins University (Roanoke, VA), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Brooklyn, NY), Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford, England), Midwest Museum of American Art (Elkhart, IN), Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA), Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA), VisArts (Rockville, MD), The Rosenbach Museum and Library (Philadelphia, PA), Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum (Salisbury, England), Walton Art Center (Fayetteville, AR), University of Memphis (Memphis, TN), and University of Richmond Museums (Richmond, VA). She has been awarded grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts/Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, four Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Visual Art Fellowship. Selected residency fellowships include MacDowell, Millay Arts, Art Omi, Sam and Adele Golden Foundation, Studios at MASS MoCA, Arts/Industry - John Michael Kohler Art Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, City of Salzburg/Salzburg Kunstlerhaus Residency, Scuola Internazionale di Grafica Venezia, I-Park Foundation, and the Jentel Foundation. The artist has held library research fellowships at the American Philosophical Society, American Antiquarian Society and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Johnson served as Visiting Scholar-in-Residence at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in Oxford, England, and has twice been in residence at the American Academy in Rome in the Visiting Artist and Scholar Program. Reviews of her work have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Brooklyn Rail, The New Art Examiner, Partisan Review, and Art Papers. Her work is in numerous public and private collections. Johnson has held teaching positions at Parsons School of Design, Marymount Manhattan College, Herron School of Art/Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, and currently is Professor of Art in the Department of Art & Art History at St. Mary's College of Maryland where she has served as the Steven Muller Distinguished Professor of the Arts and was awarded the Norton T. Dodge Award for Outstanding Creative and Scholarly Achievement. She currently lives and works in Richmond, VA and St. Mary’s City, MD.


*Art 'Round Town is a gallery walk in Portsmouth on the first Friday of each month.

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Stay connected to the Gallery from home: view the virtual Gallery!

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Generously supported by:



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3S Artspace is supported in part by a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

3S Artspace is supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts through the New England Arts Resilience Fund, part of the United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund, an initiative of the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with major funding from the federal CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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