Vivian Suter

Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed)


Not on display

Vivian Suter born 1949
56 paintings on canvas and paper, textiles and wood
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with assistance from Tate International Council and the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2020


Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed) 2016–17 is an installation comprising fifty-three large-scale gestural, brightly hued abstract oil paintings on untreated, unstretched canvas. The work was made in the village of Panajachel, in the volcanic mountains of southwestern Guatemala, where Suter has been based since 1982 (this setting and Suter’s relationship with her mother, the artist Elisabeth Wild, are the subject of a film in Tate’s collection by artist Rosalind Nashashibi [born 1973] entitled Vivian’s Garden 2017 [Tate T15055]). Suter’s studio is located in the grounds of a former coffee plantation overlooking Lake Atitlán. The nature of this specific geographic situation has played an integral part in Suter’s painting over the past three decades, both in terms of informing the artist’s thinking and her mark-making, and in the way in which the stuff of the earth is physically embedded in the surfaces of her canvases: explicit in the volcanic material, earth, botanical matter and micro-organisms to which the work’s medium line refers.

In 2005 Hurricane Stan struck Suter’s studio, causing flooding and damage to her works. She subsequently decided to purposefully leave her canvases outdoors, allowing nature to become an active agent in the work’s making. Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed) is representative of her work since this defining shift in her approach to painting. Suter uses rainwater to wet her pigments and oils, as well as allowing mud to find its way onto the canvases. The untreated canvases in works such as Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed) are ultrasensitive surfaces; they are records not just of what is seen but also of the passage of time, of the traces of daily activity in the rainforest, a register of the environmental conditions in which they were made.

Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed) 2016–17 was first exhibited during documenta 14 in Kassel in 2017, where it filled the front windows of the Glass Pavilion on Kurt-Schumacher Strasse. Nisyros is the name of the Greek island where Suter created a number of other works using this title for the Athens iteration of documenta that year. Here, the subtitle ‘Vivian’s Bed’ alludes to the configuration in which the work was shown in Kassel, with a bed occupying the middle of the installation, and two unstretched canvases acting as a bedsheet on it and a rug beneath it. The canvases that comprise the entire installation can be displayed in a number of configurations that allow it to be adapted to a variety of display spaces.

Further reading
Vivian Suter, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel 1981.
Vivian Suter: Bilder 1981–1983, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum des Kantons Thurgau Kartause Ittingen, Warth, Switzerland 1983.
Adam Szymczyk and Quinn Latimer (eds.), Documenta14: Daybook, Munich 2017.

Isabella Maidment and Dina Akhmadeeva
December 2018, updated December 2019

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