Visual Artist Alumna Susan Chen ’22 Unveils Hand Sanitizer’s Comedy and Tragedy in New Exhibition

Carlos Barragán
August 11, 2023

The Rachel Uffner Gallery is presenting Purell Night & Day, a captivating new exhibition by Visual Arts alumna Susan Chen ’20. Running through August 18, 2023, this show features a range of works that explore the relationship between the mundane and the profound, using the imagery of Purell—a common hand sanitizer—as a central theme.

In Purell Night & Day, Chen uses various mediums to delve into themes of hygiene, ritual, and contemporary life. Before March 2020, Purell—a brand so dominant in the hand sanitizer market that its name had become synonymous with the product—was an item reserved for parents worried about their children or New York subway riders. That all changed when the effects of COVID-19 introduced strict new protocols. Purell was an everywhere-product, and Chen elevates this now omnipresent item into the artistic conversation.

Purell Night & Day, says writer Maria Vogel in the press release, gives us comedy and tragedy all at once. Chen creates a space where many unanswered questions arise: What are we left with after an unimaginable disaster overtakes the world? How does life move on from here? 

The exhibition is now open to the public at Rachel Uffner Gallery, located in New York’s Lower East Side. 

Susan Chen (b. 1992, Hong Kong SAR) received her MFA in Painting from Columbia University (2020) and her BA Hons from Brown University (2015). She is a 2020 Hopper Prize Winner, 2019 AXA Art Prize finalist, and her work has been featured in New American Paintings #152, #147 (Noteworthy Artist), and #141. Chen’s work was recently reviewed by The New York Times, John Yau at Hyperallergic, Artnet, Art & Object, Observer, It’s Nice That, Galerie Magazine, various art blogs and more.