By allowing leaves and fruit to fall on her canvases, Suter invites the natural elements of Guatemala to become collaborators in her artistic process, in an exclusive portfolio for Document S/S 2019.
Vivian Suter’s work hovers between painting and sculpture. In her immersive installations, the artist expands the limits of painting to fully occupy the exhibition space with movement and levity. Her canvases, never stretched and hanging loosely from above, inhabit the air like notes in a musical score; they move up and down and draw sculptural motion in space. Exhibiting within in-between areas like architectural thresholds—outdoor pavilions, covered patios, and borderless entryways— Suter removes the painting from the flatness of the wall to treat it as a spatial object, encouraging the audience to explore from below and in the round.
Born in 1949 in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where she returned in 2018 to exhibit for the first time on the occasion of the inaugural Art Basel Cities), Suter moved to Switzerland at a young age. During a trip to Central America in the 1980s, she fell in love with Panajachel, a small town on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, and decided to move there permanently. She has been living there, in the rainforest on a former coffee plantation, since 1982 with her mother, the artist Elisabeth Wild. (A moving portrait of their domestic coexistence was poetically captured by the British filmmaker Rosalind Nashashibi in Vivian’s Garden.)
Suter, 69, will show new and recent paintings—in her signature, suspended style of installation—with her first solo exhibition in New York at Gladstone Gallery from April 11 to June 8, 2019. Suter’s deep connection to her surroundings in Guatemala are evident in her process, which redefines the idea of a landscape paint- ing, using natural materials around her.
To coincide with the Gladstone exhibition, Suter will also debut a new series of paintings for the nearby High Line park. The work is part of En Plein Air, a group show on display from April 2019 through March 2020 that reconsiders the tradition of outdoor paintings in the context of public art. Suter’s canvases will greet viewers who enter the southernmost staircase of the park, hanging above them as they climb the stairs. Her installation within the show is titled Xocomil, the name for the wind that blows over Lake Atitlán during the midday, when cold currents descend from the Guatemalan highlands and collide with warm winds that ascend from the hot lowlands. The wind is a unique aspect of the lake region’s climate, and its name translates to “the wind that carried away sin” in the indigenous Mesoamerican language Kaqchikel. Her unframed canvases will serve as jubilant welcome banners that echo the High Line’s changing colors.
Suter often paints outdoors in the lush vegetation surrounding her studio, incorporating the landscape into her works, which are transformed by natural and atmospheric elements, as shown within the works in this portfolio. Upon close inspection, her surfaces reveal signs and marks of wind, sun, and rain, or of nature gently participating in the making. One might see traces of leaves deposited on the canvas for days, a stain generated by a fruit that had fallen over the canvas, or the footprints of a dog or other animals who walked over the paintings, undisturbed and unaware they were becoming active collaborators in the artistic process.