Susan Magnus (born 1957, New York, New York) is a visual artist who creates works on paper, photography, sculpture, and installations. Her work examines memory and loss often revealing resonance within unextraordinary objects or environments.
Magnus is the recipient of a Visual Arts Award from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, a Regional Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Jack and Gertrude Murphy Fine Art Fellowship from the San Francisco Foundation.
Works created by Susan Magnus are held in many public and private collections including the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum of California, the Microsoft Corporation, the Oracle Corporation, and the Bank of America Corporation.
Undergraduate Studies and Early Professional Life:
Magnus initially studied studio art and art history at the University of Colorado in Boulder. In 1977, she transferred to Parsons School of Design and The New School for Social Research in New York to pursue her interest in the applied arts. While matriculated at Parsons, she also had the opportunity to study studio art and architecture at the American University and Parsons in Paris, France. In 1980, she received a BFA degree with honors from Parsons and The New School.
She began her career in the visual arts working as a freelance illustrator and designer for the punk/new wave tabloid the New York Rocker. As a young artist, her bread and butter also included freelance work at The New York Times and Condé Nast publications. Subsequently, she was employed creating CGI for the Spectacolor Corporation and the NBC Televison Network in New York, Computer Animation Laboratory, GmbH in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Chronicle Broadcasting Company in San Francisco.
Throughout the early 1980s, Magnus created art in the form of social situations and actions that often took advantage of the technologies and resources provided by her various days jobs. While employed at the Spectacolor Corporation she was a collaborator in the creation of an unsanctioned text-based animation, Disarm the World Today, which was displayed on the first full-color, digital message billboard in Times Square during the largest protest in the history of New York City. Magnus also created a fictional political party, The Cocktail Party, and in 1984 arranged for the party’s promotional flyer to be placed on President Ronald Reagan’s Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
In 1985, Magnus moved to Frankfurt, Germany, and began to turn her attention back to painting and drawing. She immersed herself in German culture with the intention of eventually living in Berlin; but upon learning her father was seriously ill returned to the United States. Shortly after his death in 1987, Magnus moved to San Francisco where she continued her focus on painting and drawing for several more years before applying to graduate school.
Graduate Studies and Professional Life in California:
In 1990, Magnus entered the graduate program in studio art at Mills College in Oakland, California. During her second year of study, she received a Mills College Alumni Scholarship to facilitate the completion of her thesis. While at Mills, she served as a teaching assistant to Hung Lui and Anna Valentina Murch and had the opportunity to study with Sophie Calle, Lynn Hershman Lesson, Tom Marioni, Ron Nagle, John Roloff, and Catherine Wagner as well as other internationally renowned artists. The conceptual art created by many of these professors proved influential. Magnus became increasingly interested in symbolic aspects of material culture. Much of her graduate work found its genesis in collections—most notably in collections of latchkeys dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. She also became interested in creating sculpture that incorporated materials used in the making of art but not typically seen by viewers such as the wooden framework that supports the canvas of a painting or the metal plates of copper and zinc used in intaglio printing. In 1992, she received a MFA degree from Mills College and later that year had her first solo exhibition at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.
Over the course of the next decade, Magnus continued to create conceptually driven art that reflected her interest in material culture. Lifetime, one of her most significant works realized during those years on the West Coast, was created in response to her lifelong membership in the National Geographic Society. Held in the permanent collection at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Lifetime is a sculpture made of National Geographic magazines that increases in dimension with annual installments of the publication for the duration of the artist’s life.
While living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Magnus exhibited her work extensively in Northern California most notably at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, SF Camerawork, the University of California Berkeley Art Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California. She was invited by Tom Marioni to join the Society of Independent Artists and successfully completed Marioni’s guest bartender training for his Cafe Wednesday artists’ salon. She also performed in Marioni’s Beer Drinking Sonata (for 13 players), which was presented by the Goethe Institute in San Francisco and the Studio of Acoustic Art of the WDR in Cologne, Germany.
Professional Life in New York:
In 2004, Magnus returned to the East Coast and after settling in New York State’s verdant Hudson Valley created her first outdoor, site-specific installations. She participated in Bulldog Studios, a program of the Beacon Cultural Foundation in Beacon, New York, and was a finalist for inclusion in the AIM program at the Bronx Museum. In 2007, Art in Action: Nature, Creativity and Our Collective Future, by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Natural World Museum, featured the work of Susan Magnus along with artists Joseph Beuys, Olafur Eliasson, and William Kentridge among others. More recently, Magnus has been creating projects based on a prosaic collection of 20th century snapshots, correspondence, and ephemera related to analog photography. She has since exhibited her work at Family Business and the Jen Bekman Gallery in New York as well as many other institutions throughout the United States. Susan Magnus currently lives and works in Beacon, New York.