Susan Chen '20 in Solo Show at Rachel Uffner Gallery

Mădălina Telea Borteș
February 29, 2024

From March 8 until April 20, 2024, the prestigious Rachel Uffner Gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side will present Plan B, the second solo exhibition by Visual Arts Alumna Susan Chen ’20.

This multimedia exhibition will feature Chen’s impasto-heavy paintings and a collection of ceramics that directly engage issues of women’s reproductive rights. In many of Chen’s paintings, colors swirl and dance, thick globs of it form flowers, pretzels, coffee cups, soap dispensers, protest signs, and, quite often, people—people crowded into cityscape frames, people volunteering at “My Body My Choice” events, people navigating “The Perils of Modern Dating,” or those of a “Purell Super Tower,” as the titles cheekily point out. 

Maintaining a direct political address has been a staple in Chen’s oeuvre, but so has change. “I came into the MFA program with a portfolio of landscapes and had never painted people before, and I left the program with a portfolio of portraits,” Chen explains. “My professors always reminded us that those who do well in the program are those who push to change their work. Change is hard, people hate change; it’s uncomfortable and you have to get through the ugly awkward phase. But continuing to evolve and change your work is what gets the work to keep growing, and I think you need this to be an artist in the long haul. Maybe it’s also just a good mindset to have in life, whether you’re an artist or not.”  

In this upcoming exhibition, the gallerist, Rachel Uffner, notes, the expansion into ceramics “forges an impressive new artistic direction for Chen.” Alongside a collection of portrait, narrative, and subject paintings, viewers will also see brightly painted Purell, Plan B, and Tampax ceramics. Here, too, viewers encounter renditions of the personal and the political: the Plan B box bears a small ceramic placard beside it reading "VOTE," the Tampax box, a “FREE” placard. 

When speaking about this progression in her work, Chen expressed that she’s “become a little obsessed with impasto painting lately, and then it naturally progressed to painting on 3D built-up surfaces in the studio. Ceramics and pastels have such natural painterly qualities to them,” Chen noted, “which explains why painters throughout art history often ventured into these mediums. I see ceramics as an extension of this desire to paint in three-dimensional form. Now, I find myself constructing clay surfaces and applying underglaze with color. The canvas is no longer merely a flat 2D surface but a handcrafted object. It's been quite exhilarating!”

The show’s opening reception is on Friday, March 8, from 6 to 8 pm, and open to the public. 

Susan Chen (b. 1992, Hong Kong, China) is a 2022 Forbes Under 30 North America Honoree, 2022 Artsy Vanguard Artist, and 2020 Hopper Prize Winner. She received her MFA from Columbia University in 2020 and her BA Honors from Brown University in 2015. Chen presented her debut New York solo exhibition, On Longing, at Meredith Rosen Gallery in 2020, and her debut Los Angeles solo exhibition, I Am Not A Virus, at Night Gallery in 2021. Recent group exhibitions include Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME; Brandeis University Kniznick Gallery, Waltham, MA; Songwon Art Center, Seoul, South Korea; The Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT; Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA; and Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. In 2022, Chen was an Artist-in-Residence at Silver Art Projects, where she participated in their Social Justice & Activism program at the World Trade Center. Chen’s work can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Museum of Chinese in America, New York, NY; Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection, Palm Beach, FL; Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Providence, RI; and the Yuz Museum Shanghai, Shanghai, China. The artist currently lives and works in New York City.