New York

Robert Cumming

Castelli Graphics

Since he began exhibiting in the late ’60s, Robert Cumming has worked in a wide range of mediums, including photography, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, painting, and writing. He has used these mediums to probe the gap between the perceiving mind (the original site of language systems) and the phenomenological world (the source of and inspiration behind those systems). Until recently, much of his work could be characterized as a statement that conflated system and object. Now, however, Cumming has developed a chain of analogues that explore a different gap: the space between what we know and experience and what we know and don’t actually experience.

Consistent with Cumming’s recent ambitions are the changes he has made in his choice of scale and medium. Although he began working in acrylic on large sheets of paper a few years ago, his recent exhibition of 12 large paintings, all oil on canvas, suggests that he has made a major breakthrough, and is now well into a new phase of work. In a number of the paintings, Cumming depicts an Adirondack chair floating in a dark-blue atmospheric space; he imposes upon the chair a diagram, evoking a constellation. With this simple motif, he connects a system with the image of a thing, and suggests our inherent need to circumscribe the world so that it might be understood. Cumming has made a metaphor capable of critiquing its own means of construction. The chair in which we sit and contemplate the stars becomes something, a system or order, that limits our experience.

While exploring issues regarding the mediation of experience, Cumming has not taken the fashionable stance of indifference. Instead of expressing frustration, impotence, and anger over being circumscribed by language, he generates meaning within these limits. For almost two decades, Cumming has critiqued notions of objectivity and systems of ordering. He has been constantly restless and increasingly ambitious and adventuresome and his language of icons and motifs has become richer and more allusive.

John Yau