Rosemary Mayer (New York, 1943–2014) was a significant figure in the New York art scene from the late 1960s throughout the 70s and 80s.
Best known for her large-scale fabric sculptures inspired by the lives of historical women, Mayer’s practice extends to include works on paper, artist books and outdoor installations, exploring themes of temporality, history and biography.
A prolific artist as well as an active participant in the feminist artistic discourse of her time, Mayer was intimately involved within a close-knit network of fellow artists, scholars and gallerists, including artist Adrian Piper; her sister and poet Bernadette Mayer; former spouse and artist Vito Acconci; artist Ree Morton; writer, art critic and curator Lawrence Alloway and many others. She was one of the founding members of A.I.R. Gallery, the first artist-directed space for and by women artists in the United States.
Between 1969 and 1973, Mayer’s art often derived from textual references and conceptual art as a foundation for sculptures using fabric. Her 1971 series Veils, which no longer exists, incorporated layers of colored tricot and nylon painted with watercolor or oil paint. Her 1972-73 works, The Catherines (1973), Galla Placidia (1973), Hypsipyle (1973), and Hroswitha (1973) belong to a group of sculptures named after individual or groups of women of the Middle Age and antiquity. These wood and textile sculptures consist of translucent swathes of colorful fabrics, evocative of the corporeal and transient, as well as the historical women after which they are named. These works evoked myth and history in a manner radically distinct from the approach of minimalist male artists of the 70s, who favored durable materials such as steel and concrete. Through her historical evocations and use of traditionally domestic and feminine materials, Mayer shined a new light upon these overlooked women, while inserting herself into a historically male tradition of commemoration and monument-making.
Mayer’s style can also be traced to the influences of Jacopo da Pontormo and other Italian Mannerist painters who inspired her practice, particularly through their use of color and draping, as well as the overall qualities of fragility and unease that pervades their work.
Between 1977 and 1982, Mayer gravitated away from sculptures as a fixed form and the gallery as the primary setting for experiencing art. In 1977 she began creating ephemeral outdoor installations using balloons, snow, paper, and fabric, exploring the possibilities of art in contexts of site-specificity, temporality and community engagement.
Mayer called these projects Temporary Monuments, intended to celebrate and memorialize individuals and communities through their connections to places, time and nature. Works such as Some Days in April (1978) broached notions of memorializing, transience and myth following the deaths of her parents and her friend Ree Morton, who had been born and died in the month of April, respectively. Tying helium-filled balloons –a motif used by Mayer to indicate the grasping of fleeting time– with ribbons and inscribing them with emblematic names of spring flowers, numbers and stars, Mayer tethered them to wooden stakes in a field on a day in April.
In 1977, Mayer produced a work titled Spell, a public art project funded by the Creative Arts Public Service grant from the New York State Council. Celebrating the opening of a flower market in Jamaica, Queens, the project featured large weather balloons inscribed with words signaling the return of spring. The ephemeral work, which relied on collective memory, social engagement and site specificity for its activation, contributed to a growing shift in contemporary notions of public art. Her 1979 series, Snow People, was another temporary installation, made of snow, similarly dedicated to community members and their forgotten presence. Installed in a library garden in Lenox, Massachusetts, where her sister Bernadette lived at the time, she carved fifteen figures in snow and paired each with a placard that paid tribute to all the Adelines, Fannys, Carolines, and other commonly-named women of the town’s past. Naming each sculpture after common names, the snow figures were anti-monuments in their fragility, yet reflective of the mutability of time.
One of Mayer’s last temporary monuments, Moon Tent (1982), was created by wrapping a pavilion on the top of art historian Robert Hobbs’ residence in glassine paper for the duration of one evening. Friends were invited to revel from dusk to dawn, and the event was inspired by her longtime studies of astrology and ancient rituals, while also foreshadowing future generations of socially engaged art practices that embraced actions like community dinners and processions.
During the early 1980s, Mayer continued experimenting with her Temporary Monuments series, producing drawings for festive tents that were never realized and creating a series of works titled Ghosts, ephemeral sculptures made out of materials such as plastic, glassine and ribbons. She went on to revisit her interest in classics and art history, investigating the forms of classical Greek vases and Chinese ceramics which resulted in a series of large vessels made of wood, cheesecloth and rabbit skin glue.
At the start of the 1990s, Mayer shifted her focus towards teaching art, and this informed her last major body of work. For the remaining fifteen years of her life, she produced a series of watercolor illustrations of epic literature such as Beowulf and Gilgamesh, as well as illustrations of historical women of the Roman empire. These projects brought together her lifelong investigation of the relationship between text and image, and her sustained interest in the history of women.
Mayer was also a writer and critic engaged in numerous art writing, literary and publishing projects throughout her career. In addition to the text that accompanied or was integrated into much of her work, she translated Pontormo’s Diary, the journal of the 16th century Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo da Pontormo, which was published with a catalog of her work. She illustrated an issue of Art-Rite, the New York-based proto-punk zine that defined post conceptualism and contributed to several issues of 0 TO 9, the journal of experimental art and writing edited by Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci. Such projects were recorded in Mayer’s journals, which she wrote in for most of her life and which elucidate the intricate relationships she had with her cohort, a valuable insight into her art-making and writing.
Through her career, Mayer’s work was exhibited at numerous alternative art spaces in New York, including The Clocktower, Sculpture Center, and Franklin Furnace, as well as several university galleries. In 2016, Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn held a major exhibition of her work, igniting a renewed interest in her work. In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art acquired some of Mayer’s drawings and artist books from the 1970s.
Her work has since been exhibited for the first time in Europe in a solo exhibition at ChertLüdde in 2020. She was shown in the group exhibition Bizarre Silks, Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, etc., curated by Nick Mauss at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. Her work was also featured in recent group shows like MoMA PS1 in 2021 and MoMA in 2022. Mayer had a solo exhibition at the Swiss Institute, New York in September 2021. The show has since travelled to the Ludwig Forum for International Art, Aachen in March, 2022 and at the Lenbachhaus, Münich and then at Spike Island, Bristol.
Collections: Coleção moraes-barbosa, São Paulo; MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München
Ways of Attaching, curated by Eva Birkenstock, Ludwig Forum, Aachen
Ways of Attaching, curated by Stephanie Weber, Lenbachhaus, Münich
Ways of Attaching, Spike Island, Bristol
Ways of Attaching, curated by Laura McLean-Ferris with Alison Coplan, Swiss Institute, New York
“Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977-1981, Gordon Robichaux, New York
Rods Bent Into Bows – Fabric Sculptures and Drawings 1972-1973, ChertLüdde, Berlin
Rosemary Mayer: Beware of All Definitions, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, USA
Rosemary Mayer: Conceptual Works and Early Fabric Sculptures, 1969-1973, SOUTHFIRST, Brooklyn, New York
Gilgamesh, Main Lobby Showcase Gallery, LaGuardia, New York
Beowulf Reproduced, Bowery Poetry Club, New York
Illustrations for Beowulf, Resnick Gallery, Brooklyn Campus, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York
Long Island University, Salena Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
Pam Adler Gallery, New York, NY
Interart Gallery, The Women’s Interart Center, Inc.
The Hobbs House, Lansing, New York
A & M Artworks, New York, NY
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
The Art Gallery, Malott Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Interart Gallery, the Women’s Interart Center, Inc.
55 Mercer Street Gallery and 461 Park Avenue South Gallery, New York
State University of New York at Stony Brook
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
Balloons for a Birthday, Roof installation, 461 Park Avenue South, New York, NY
Some Days In April, Outdoor Installation, Hartwick, New York
Spell, Outdoor installation, Jamaica Farmer’s Market, Jamaica, NY
Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York
Whitney Museum of Art Resources Center, New York, NY
A. I. R. Gallery, New York
Selected Group Exhibitions
My Demons My Angels, ChertLüdde, Berlin
Scores for Transformation, Artspace Aotearoa, Auckland
The Work That Textile Does ,curated by Jakub Gawkowski, Anne Szefer Karlsen and Marta Kowalewska; Central Museum of Textiles, Łódź
RE-PAIR: Tennessee Triennial, curated by María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville
Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces, MoMA, New York
SIREN (some poetics), curated by Quinn Latimer, Amant Foundation, Brooklyn
Greater New York 2021, organized by a curatorial team led by Ruba Katrib and Serubiri Moses, in collaboration with Kate Fowle and Inés Katzenstein, MoMA PS1, New York
Light Over Plaster Clouds, curated by Max Warsh, Critical Path Method, Baltimore
Downtown 2021, curated by Sam Gordon, La MaMa Galleria, New York
Bizarre Silks, Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, etc., curated by Nick Mauss, Kusthalle Basel, Switzerland
Far Back Must Go Who Wants To Do A Big Jump, ChertLüdde, Berlin, Germany
By Your Own Hands, Camayuhs, Atlanta, USA
Ancient Art Objects, Whitespace Gallery, Atlanta, USA
Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here, Nichelle Beauchene Gallery, New York
Dialogues in Drawing, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
Works on Paper: 1813-2016, Mitchell Algus Gallery, New York
Fantastic Architecture: Vostell, Fluxus, and The Built Environment, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, Chicago
Whatever Moves Between Us Also Moves the World in General, Murray Guy Gallery, New York
On Empathy, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York
Acciones En La Calle: Street Works in New York and Latin America circa 1970, Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, SUNY Old Westbury, Long Island
Static Cling 2, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York
Yesterday Amphoric, Regina Rex, Queens, New York
Groundbreaking: The Women of the Sylvia Sleigh Collection, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, New Jersey
Permanent Collection, at NURTURart, Brooklyn, New York
The History Show, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
A.I.R. Gallery Retrospective, Werkstatte Gallery, New York
Art Faculty Exhibition, LaGuardia Community College, L.I.C., New York
Material Girls, 128 Gallery, New York
Lure of the Local, CU Galleries, Boulder, USA
American Women Artists: The 20th Century, Knoxville Museum of Art and Queens Community, College, Queens, New York
89 for 89, G. W. Einstein, New York
Eight Artists, 128 Gallery, New York
Sculptural Membrane, Sculpture Center, New York
Paper Now, Cleveland Museum of Art
Drawing, Forum Gallery, New York
The White Wall Papers, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, USA
Designs for Productions, Soho Baroque Opera Company, New York
Views by Women Artists, Surrogates Courts, New York
Artists’ Books, Metronom, Barcelona, Spain
Words as Images, Renaissance Society, University of Chicago
Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, New York (Ghost installation)
Times Square Show, New York
Dialogues, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York
Poets’ Painters, Denver Art Museum; Adkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City; La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art
Drawings, Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Organization of Independent Artists, Arte Fiera, Bologna, Italy
Overview, P.S. 1. Long Island City, New York
Artworks/Bookworks, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art
Fabric Pieces from the Sixties, Beucker & Harpsichords, New York
Six Women Artists, Rutgers University Art Gallery, New Brunswick, USA
School of Visual Arts Alumni, Hundred Acres Gallery
Space/Matter ’77, Intercart Gallery, New York
Paper, Rockefeller Arts Center, State University of New York at Fredonia
Group Indiscriminate, 112 Green Street Gallery, New York
Six Women, William Patterson College, Wayne, New Jersey
Five Americans, Galerie Gerald Piltzer, Paris, France
Discussion – Words/Works, The Clocktower, New York
New Talent Festival, Forum Gallery, New York
Tight and Loose, University Art Gallery, State University of New York, Albany
Women Choose Women and Soft as Art, New York Cultural Center, New York
Options, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, USA
A.I.R. Gallery, New York
Materials II, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston
“TOO LIKEABLE (TO THE SIDE OF ROSEMARY MAYER), PART 1 & 2” by Alice Butler, MAP Magazine, August 2022, Online.
“Vom Schweden Im Münchener Lenbachhaus sind die Textil-Skulpturen der US-Künstlerin Rosemary Mayer zu entdecken” by Catrin Lorch, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22 June 2022, No. 141.
“A Fleeting Matter: On Rosemary Mayer” by Rose Higham-Stainton, Passe-Avant, 22 April 2022, Online.
“US-Künstlerin Mayer in Aachen: Hroswitha und die Katharinen” by Georg Imdahl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 21 March 2022.
“At the Swiss Institute: Rosemary Mayer” by Francesca Wade, The London Review of Books, Volume 44, No. 1, 6 January 2022, online.
“Under the Skin of Newness: Domenick Ammirati on the New Museum’s 2021 Triennial, Greater New York 2021 at MoMA PS1, and Rosemary Mayer at Swiss Institute” by Domenick Ammirati, ArtForum, January 2022, online.
“ROSEMARY MAYER (SWISS INSTITUTE NEW YORK)” on Artforum, December 2021, p.145.
“Rosemary Mayer’s Fabric Sculptures Hover Between Form and Formlessness” by Paige K. Bradley, Frieze, New York, 21 September 2021, online.
“Permanent Records on Rosemary Mayer at ChertLüdde, Berlin” by Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov, Texte zur Kunst, Nr.121, March 2021, pp.172-175.
“Nothing Independent of Its Circumstances: ROSEMARY MAYER” by Wendy Vogel, Mousse Magazine, November, issue #73, pp. 160 – 179.
“Rosemary Mayer at ChertLüdde” by Andrew Witt, Artforum, 17 October 2020, online.
“Strange Rhythms: On Rosemary Mayer’s 1971 Diary” by Tha Ballard, The Nation, 23 July 2020, 2020
“Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer” by Kate Ilzer, The Brooklyn Rail, June 2020.
“The Thousand Episodes the Mind Enjoys: Bernadette and Rosemary Mayer” by Amy Tobin, Burlington Contemporary, 5 May, 2020.
“Voluminous Absence: Rosemary Mayer’s ‘Shekinah’ and ‘Bat Kol’” by Noam Parness, Protocols, Issue #7, May 2020.
“Monuments Not Meant to Last” by Phillip Griffith, Hyperallergic, 5 October, 2018.
“Rediscovering Rosemary Mayer at UGA Dodd Galleries” by Rebecca Brantley, Burnaway, 14 November 2017.
“Fragments from the Museum of Us: ‘Ancient Art Objects’ at Whitespace” by Dan Weiskopf, Burnaway, 18 August 2017.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Thea Ballard, Art in America, 24 March 2017.
“Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer” by Phillip Griffith, Review in the Brooklyn Rail, February 2017.
“Rosemary Mayer,” New Yorker Goings on About Town, 28 November 2016.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Martha Schwendener, New York Times Art in Review, 18 November 2016.
“Rosemary Mayer, Southfirst” by Chloe Wyma, Artforum Critic’s Pick, 4 November 2016, online.
“The Diaries of An Artist: The Art and Writing of Rosemary Mayer” by Marie Warsh and Gillian Sneed, Brooklyn Rail, 6 April 2016, online.
“Knock Back a Few With Beowulf,” The Gothamist, December 2006.
“Resnick Gallery Brings Classic Poetry to Life,” Seawanhaka, 6 October 2005.
“New Romantics’” by Michael Scholnick, Cover, February 1988, pp. 16-7.
“New Romantics” by Phyllis Rosenblatt, East Village Review, November – December 1987, p. 108.
“Paper Now,” exhibition catalogue, by Jane Glaubinger, Cleveland Museum of Art and Indiana
“University Press,” Bloomington, Indiana, 1986, pp. 44-45, 70.
“The Pleasure of Necessity: The Work of Rosemary Mayer” by Maureen Connor, Woman’s Art Journal, Fall 1985/Winter 1986, vol. 6 #2.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Reagan Upshaw, Art in America, October 1985.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Gret Masters, Arts Magazine, September 1985.
“Artists’ Book,” (review of Pontormo’s Diary) by Lawrence Alloway, Art in America, summer 1984.
“Maureen Connor” by Lawrence Alloway, Arts Magazine, September 1982.
“Epigrams of Dioscorides” (with Bernadette Mayer), The World #35, St. Mark’s Press, New York, 1982.
“Pontormo’s Diary”, see above
“Words as Images,” The Editors, White Walls #5, Chicago, 1981.
“Who’s Who of American Women,” 12 edition, 1981-1982, Marguis, Chicago, Illinois.
“Independent Studios One” (limited edition portfolio) by Lawrence Alloway, New York City, 1981.
“Art” by Lawrence Alloway, The Nation, 6 December, 1981.
“A Business Stress on the Arts” by Elizabeth M. Fowler, The New York Times, 19 March 1980.
“Poets and Painters: Lines of Color” by David Shapiro, Poets’ Painters, Denver Art Museum, Denver Colorado, 1979.
“Can Museums Collect Contemporary Sculpture?” by Ellen Lubell, Soho Weekly News, 7 June 1979, pp. 28-9.
“Originals: American Women Artists” by Eleanor Munro, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1979, pp. 391-392.
“Snow People” by Avice Meehan, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, February 12, p. 24.
“Art Pick” by William Zimmer, Soho Weekly News, 24 January – 1 Febuary 1979.
“World Who’s Who of Women”, Fifth Edition, Cambridge, UK, 1979.
“American Women Artists” (slide set) by M. Stofflet, Ed., Harper & Row, New York City, 1979.
“Great Drawings of the Twentieth Century,” Shorewood Fine Art Books, New York City, 1979.
“Review” by B, Cavaliere, Arts Magazine, June 1978, pp. 40-1.
“Who’s Who in American Art” by Catell Press, Tempe, Arizona, 1978.
“A Herstory…” by J. Becker, The Real Paper, Boston, Massachusetts, 3 June 1978, p. 31.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Valentine Tatransky, Arts Magazine, April 1978, p. 13.
“Ion and Out of Bounds” by April Kingsley, Village Voice, 10 March 1978, p. 73.
“Soft Art” by Ellen Lubell, Soho Weekly News, 22 December 1977, p. 2.
“Jamaica Market Reopening” New York Post, 6 April 1977.
“Rosemary Mayer” by B. Cavaliere, Womanart, Winter-Spring 1977, p. 45.
“Review” by Anne Wooster, Art News, January 1977, p. 118.
“Review” by Bruce Kurtz, Art in America, March – April 1977, p. 113.
“Individuals,” by Alan Sondheim, Ed., Dutton, New York City, 1977, pp 191-122 & intro.
“Art” by Lawrence Alloway, The Nation, 30 October 1976.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Lawrence Alloway, Artforum, Summer 1976.
“Women’s Art in the Seventies” by Lawrence Alloway, Art in America, May – June 1976.
“Rosemary Mayer” by Alan Sondheim, Arts Magazine, September 1975.
“Dan Graham,” Art in America, November 1975.
“Arts USA,” Information et documents, Paris, October 1975.
“Five Americans” by Francoise Eliet, Art Press, Paris, March – April 1975.
“Charles Simonds at Artist’ Space,” Art in America, March 1975.
“Woman Have Always Made Art,” Aphra, Winter 1974.
“Le soft art et les femmes” by Aline Dillier, Opus 52 International, September 1974.
“Le feminist art aux U.S.A.”, Opus 50 International, April 1974.
“New Talent Festival” by Peter Frank, Soho Weekly News, 30 June, 1974.
“Art” by Lawrence Alloway, The Nation, 29 June 1974.
“New Talent” by John Perrault, Village Voice, 20 June 1974.
“Sylvia Sleigh at A.I.R.”, Art in America, November 1974.
“A.I.R. – Women Artists”, Bollaffiarte, Turin, November 1974.
“Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object” by Lucy Lippard, Preager, 1973, p. 69.
“Minus times minus equals plus” by Daniela Palazzoli, Domus, March 1973.
“Art” by Lawrence Alloway, The Nation, 4 June, 1973.
“Review” by Roberta Smith, Artforum, September 1973.
“Suggesting a Transference…” by Paul Stitelman, Arts Magazine, September 1973.
“Crafts for Art’s Sake” by Elizabeth Weatherford, MS Magazine, May 1973.
“Attitudes Towards Materials, Content and the Personal”, Arts Magazine, May 1973
“Let’s be flexible…” by Peter Schjeldahl, The New York Times, 1 April 1973.
“Hung, draped and plopped” by John Perrault, Village Voice, March 29, 1973.
“Women Choose Women” by April Kingsley, Artforum, March 1973.
“Other Criteria by Leo Steinberg,” (book review), Arts Magazine, March 1973
“Morris Louis by Michael Field” (book review), Arts Magazine, March 1973
“Bypassing the Gallery System” by Marcia Tucker, MS Magazine, February 1973.
“Review” by Roberta Smith, Arts Magazine, February 1973.
“Nylon Organza Art” by Robert Taylor, Boston Globe, 1 January 1973.
“Performance and Experience”, Arts Magazine, January 1973
“Review” by Shirley Marion, Crafts Horizons, December 1972.
“Review” by Roberta Smith, Arts Magazine, November 1972.
“Indoor – Outdoor: Sculpture and Materials,” Arts Magazine, September 1972
A.I.R. Statement, A.I.R Gallery, New York City, September 1972
Books, Journals and Writings
“Second and Expanded Edition: Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer”, Edited by Marie Warsh, Soberscove Press, Chicago, IL, 2020.
“Temporary Monuments: Work by Rosemary Mayer”, 1977-1982. Edited by Max Warsh and Marie Warsh. Soberscove, Chicago, IL, 2018.
“Rosemary Mayer: Beware of All Definitions: Selected Works, 1966-1973”, Edited by Katie Geha and Marie Warsh. Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 2017.
“Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer”, Edited by Marie Warsh, Object Relations/Southfirst Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, 2016.
“Pontormo’s Diary”, Out of London Press, New York and Milan, 1979.
“Surroundings”, Art-Rite Publishing CO., New York, 1977.
“41 Fabric Swatches: 0-9 Press”, New York, 1969.
“Some of My Stories,” Heresies, New York, Summer 1988.
“Luxe,” Beauty and Critique, Time/Space Limited, Mussman/Bruce, New York: 1983.
“A Moon Tent,” White Walls #8, Chicago, Summer 1983.
“Those,” White Walls #5, Chicago, Winter 1981.
“Josephine in Time, “United Artists Seven, Lenox, MA.
“Spell,” White Walls #2, Chicago, Spring, 1979.
“Contexts” with Nancy Kitchel, Tracks, Vol. 3 #1, New York, 1977.
“Two Years,” Individuals, ed. Alan Sondheim., E.p. Dutton, New York, 1977.
“Passages,” Tracks, Vol. 2 #1 and #3, New York: 1976.
“Firecracker,” 0 to 9 #3, New York, 1968.