Opening hours Gallery closed

Rosemary Mayer

Ways of Attaching

Rosemary Mayer

Ways of Attaching

Rosemary Mayer, Ways of Attaching (2022). Installation view, Spike Island, Bristol. Courtesy the Estate of Rosemary Mayer. Photograph by Dan Weill



Ways of Attaching is the first institutional survey exhibition of artist Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014). It spans three decades of Mayer’s prolific and varied practice, from fabric sculptures, artist’s books and ephemeral installations of the 1970s through to ink drawings and pastels from the 1980s and 90s.

Mayer was born in Brooklyn and lived in New York City all her life. She was fascinated by history and her work often references historical artworks and writing, from Greek mythology to medieval literature and Mannerist painting. In 1972, Mayer co-founded A.I.R., the first not-for-profit, artist-led gallery for women artists in the United States. The following year, she held her first solo exhibition there of fabric sculptures named after historical and mythological women. Three of these works are on display here: Galla Placidia, after the regent of the Western Roman Empire; Hypsipyle, referencing the fabled queen of Lemnos in Ancient Greece; and The Catherines, celebrating every woman called Catherine throughout history (all works 1973).

An elaborate, handmade artist’s book titled Passages (1976) documents Mayer’s only trip to Europe in 1975 through exquisite drawings, collage and calligraphy on paper and vellum. Also on display is rare archival documentation of Mayer’s ephemeral installations of the late 1970s, which she called “temporary monuments”. Using materials such as weather balloons, ribbons and snow, these fleeting works reveal Mayer’s fascination with the passage of time, acts of naming and memorialisation.

Some of her later work became more muted and darker in tone. Black and white ink drawings of classical vessels from the 1980s are overlaid with menacing phrases that invoke feelings of fragility and despair. Likewise, extremely modest sculptures made from cheesecloth and rabbit skin glue from the 1990s seem like decomposed remnants of the lush materiality of her early pieces.

Ways of Attaching is the first time Mayer’s work has ever been shown in the UK. The title is purposefully equivocal: attaching is not only a method for binding materials together, but also for establishing connections with friends and peers, both living and dead, which was central to Mayer’s understanding of art.

Robert Leckie on 'Ways of Attaching' at Spike Island (2022)

“This body of work, as Mayer described it, is somewhere “between sculpture and celebration, decoration and private magic.” A life’s work—the work of art—it is endless.” – Review: Emily LaBarge, 4Columns

“It is a heady maceration of pleasures and decay, of time experienced in efflorescent bursts and considered at a distance, cycling the eddies of history.” – Review: Martha Barratt, Burlington Contemporary

“...the presence of tragedy or loss doesn't dissipate the exhibition's overwhelmingly celebratory feeling” – Review: Dylan Huw, Art Monthly

Rosemary Mayer

Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014) was a prolific artist involved in the New York art scene from the late 1960s. Best known for her large-scale sculptures using fabric as the primary material, she also created works on paper, artist books and outdoor installation exploring themes of temporality, history and biography. She was additionally a writer, art critic and translator. Mayer was a founding member of A.I.R. Gallery, the first cooperative gallery for women in the U.S. and had one of her earliest shows there. During the 1970s and 1980s, her work was also shown at many New York alternative art spaces, including The Clocktower, Sculpture Center and Franklin Furnace, and in university galleries throughout the country. In 1982, her translation of the diary of Mannerist artist Jacopo da Pontormo was published along with a catalogue of her work. Recent exhibitions of Mayer’s work have taken place at Gordon Robichaux, New York (2021); ChertLüdde, Berlin (2020); Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia (2017); and Southfirst, Brooklyn (2016). Her work was also included in the exhibition Bizarre Silks, Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, etc., curated by Nick Mauss at Kunsthalle Basel (2020).

Order the book: The Letters of Rosemary & Bernadette Mayer, 1976–1980

Two sisters, an artist and a poet, describe the contours of their lives among New York’s artistic avant-garde through an intimate collection of letters.

Order online
Lecture: Jenni Sorkin 'Dead Heroines'

Partners and Supporters

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Marie and Max Warsh of the Estate of Rosemary Mayer and in partnership with Swiss Institute, New York; Ludwig Forum, Aachen and Lenbachhaus, Munich.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

View our current and upcoming exhibitions

Back to exhibitions

Browse our past exhibitions

Visit the archive