A native of New York City. Susan Noyes Platt, after many years as a tenured professor of art history, is currently an independent art historian and freelance art critic and curator, based in Seattle, Washington. She has received numerous grants and published for several decades in magazines, newspapers, and scholarly books. A selection of her articles, essays and reviews on the intersections of art and politics are posted on this site.
Her current project focuses on representations of immigration and detention in historical American art, contemporary art, particularly film, video, photography, and printmaking , and street actions.
She began her career with archival research on the discourse on modernism in early twentieth century US before it was canonized; the language of art discourse is still a major interest. A turning point in her thinking was understanding the impact of Hitler’s attacks on art on Alfred Barr’s framing of the history of modern art. That led to a book on the complex intersections of art discourse and politics in the 1930s in the US.
Starting in the mid 1990s, after a trip to China, she began to expand beyond her roots in American art history and criticism and to follow and write about global art. In 1999-2000 after a year on a Fulbright Fellowship in Istanbul, she began to write articles on art in the Middle East, particularly women artists in Turkey. Her blog includes analysis of recent exhibitions and issues. She also writes reviews regularly for both print and online publications.
Her first book, Modernism in the 1920s (UMI Research Press, 1985) based on her dissertation, examined the critical discourse on modern art in the New York art and academic press in the 1920s before the history of modern art was codified. At that time, many collectors and gallery directors published their own interpretations. The book also examines newspaper criticism by now little-known and even anonymous writers who often produced brilliant arguments in defense of all aspects of modernism as they reviewed exhibitions in NYC galleries. The book is available by ordering through Pay Pal on my home page.
Art and Politics in the 1930s, Modernism, Marxism, Americanism (Midmarch Arts Press, 1999) looks at the interconnections of art and politics during the Depression years. It particularly analyzes unexpected intersections of the three themes in the title, with a focus on criticism by Elizabeth McCausland, Anita Brenner, Charmion Von Wiegand, Alfred Barr and finally, the emergence of Clement Greenberg in 1939. The crucial role of Communism in creating connections between art and politics both theoretically and in practice is another theme, as is the evolution of New Deal political art under the leadership of Holger Cahill.
Art and Politics Now Cultural Activism in a Time of Crisis (Midmarch Arts Press 2011) analyzes activist art from 1999-2009, bringing an understanding of the historical trajectory of critical discourse on politicized art to developments in the early 21st century.
It begins with the 1999 anti WTO demonstrations in Seattle and concludes with reference to the BP Gulf oil spill in the spring of 2010. Topics include opposition to war, terrorism, racism, borders, and the violation of the earth. This period, the first nine years of the twentieth century, comprises a distinct moment when many artists and curators urgently engaged with social protest against war and torture, particularly spurred on by horror at revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib and the destructive war in Iraq.
Since publishing this book, she continues to write as an activist on many topics, celebrating artists who address the many urgent social concerns facing us in terms of climate change, opposition to war, ravaging of the social safety net, Israeli/ Palestinian issues, and immigration/detention.