Critics’ Picks

Rosemary Mayer, Endless Work (version 1), 1972, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 11 × 8 1/2''.

Rosemary Mayer, Endless Work (version 1), 1972, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 11 × 8 1/2''.


Rosemary Mayer

Ritterstrasse 2A
September 4–November 14, 2020

Between 1972 and 1973, Rosemary Mayer constructed a series of innovative cloth sculptures dedicated to both forgotten and celebrated women of history. Hung, draped, and suspended from the wall, the works took on increasingly ambitious designs, incorporating cheesecloth and satin. Although abstract and nonrepresentational in their composition and material facture, the sculptures were conceptualized to serve a commemorative function. Hroswitha, 1973, named after the German medieval poet, thrusts out from the wall as if it were a figurehead on the bow of a ship. Animated and awakened, the abstracted figure is ferreted out from a latent state into something more material and sensual. Although its referent is obscure, the work was imagined to conjure, paradoxically, an unembodied presence: “Presence caught in thin veils,” the artist wrote in a published essay from 1977.

In preparation for an exhibition at the nonprofit A.I.R. Gallery in 1973, Mayer made a series of sketches for what she called Endless Work. That project was never realized, but the sculptural proposition lives on, provisionally, as a group of working drawings premised on a radical idea—the sculpture could be transformed, adapted, and rearranged with each additional piece of fabric. Mayer not only attempted to reimagine, through her title, the conditions of sculptural work through the prism of social reproduction and care, but she also alluded to the open, indeterminate act of reading—the ways in which the object continues to be made in our minds, imaginatively, as we encounter it. These sketches encourage us to define the latent possibilities of something otherwise known only through fragmentary documents and archives.