In 1988, at the age of forty-four, artist Rosemary Mayer wrote an article titled “Some of My Stories” for the feminist journal of art and politics. heresies. Weaving her own stories and those of friends, she described underpaid and underrated women, many of whom suffered from cancer, drugs, or men. Resigned but hopeful, Mayer was also considering his own status. âTwenty years ago was better,â she wrote in the introductory poem, reflecting on the successful dawn of her career and the current stagnation, âAnd maybe in twenty more , / It will be even better. ” Unfortunately, it took almost thirty years and the artist’s death in 2014 for his work to receive the renewed attention it deserves. Although always New Yorker, this exhibition at the Swiss Institute is the first study of Mayer’s multifaceted work in his hometown or elsewhere. Showcasing nearly eighty works spanning its most prolific period, 1968-1983, “Ways of Attaching” includes concept texts, fabric sculptures and related drawings, watercolors of rippling draperies, multimedia collages and documentation. abundant of his performative public art projects. .
Mayer’s writing, as a critic, essayist, and translator, was often linked to his art. smoke. These factual documents are displayed in a display case alongside a number of contemporary drapery studies. Seemingly incongruous, these works anchor Mayer’s parallel interests in language and temporality as well as textiles and drapery, concerns that would eventually overlap in his practice.
After making a series of paintings on unstretched canvas and other fabrics – an example on satin is included here – Mayer abandoned his paintings in 1971 and began working primarily with textiles. Initially, his fabric sculptures offered a lyrical approach to postminimalism, Mayer encouraging soft materials to express themselves. In the wall Balancing (1972), two lengths of silky rayon and gauze dyed from arched rods and anchors fixed in the wall, reminiscent of the sails of a ship. But the artist soon began to build more elaborate scaffolding for his ready-made and hand-dyed textiles, resulting in volumetric works like Galla Placidia (1973), produced for her first exhibition at the AIR gallery, of which she was a founding member, and presented only once since. For this towering sculpture, Mayer layered translucent gauzes and iridescent satins of lavender, coral, and chartreuse, wrapping them around a hanging ring to create a puffy shape that collects at its center and cascades down the ground.
Only a few examples of these fragile sculptures have survived, but Mayer has preserved detailed photographic and hand-drawn records. His whimsical but demanding drawings, of sculptures both completed and unrealized, form the heart of the exhibition. The fragmentary Abracadabra sailboat (1972) resembles a first formulation of Balancing, while the most detailed From Medici (1972) documents the complex star-shaped structure of a finished sculpture that no longer exists. The knotted, sewn, and draped arrangements evoked in a quartet of 1971 colored pencil and marker drawings demonstrate the variety and indeterminacy of forms the artist was exploring – two ideas rarely resembled each other. Mayer described these drawings as shots of âimpossible piecesâ – a recognition of opportunities below his aspirations – and many have never escaped the two-dimensional realm.
While Mayer continued to make sculptures for gallery exhibitions – works that this presentation lacks – she began, in 1977, to publicly stage what she called “temporary monuments” using ephemeral materials. Well documented in the second floor gallery, these ceremonial events celebrated seasonal cycles and honored lost friends, family members, and even those she did not know. For Snow people (1979), installed in a library garden in Lenox, Massachusetts, where her sister, poet Bernadette Mayer lived at the time, Mayer sculpted fifteen figures in the snow and each associated with a sign paying homage to all the Adelines, Fanny, Carolines, and other commonly named women from the town’s past. Naming played a central role in Mayer’s practice: she frequently titled her sculptures after historical women, but she was equally keen to commemorate those from her own time. The balloons she lifted into the air from a barren field in upstate New York for A few days in April (1978) was named after her parents, who died as a teenager, and Ree Morton, a then-late artist friend, whose public plans inspired Mayer to pursue a similar pageantry.
Mayer’s very personal and evanescent tributes stand in stark contrast to the bold monumental and industrially-crafted sculptures his male peers installed in corporate plazas during the same period, as well as the countless historic statues that dot New York. The ephemeral documents on display here, which include photographs, hand-drawn posters, and two evocative drawings of the “mooring knots” that Mayer used to tie balloons, record and preserve these ephemeral events, which often had little or no impact. public. As a gathering of these surviving traces, the show presents an illuminating and long-awaited tribute to an artist who has spent her time commemorating others.