Selections from Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer

Rosemary Mayer Swiss Institute

In anticipation of Rosemary Mayer’s exhibition at Swiss Institute in Spring 2021, SI is pleased to share selections from Excerpts from the 1971 Journal of Rosemary Mayer, edited by Marie Warsh. Originally published in 2016, the publication is reissued this month by Soberscove Press, Chicago, and features a new introduction and additional journal entries.  

Rosemary Mayer (1943-2014) is primarily known for her gauzy and colorful fabric sculptures, which employed knots and drapery to create a tenuous, temporary quality. Mayer lived and worked in New York for most of her life, and contributed to a number of significant art projects in the city, including the co-founding of the all-female cooperative gallery A.I.R. in 1972. Mayer also employed a buoyant, feminist handling of the monumental form, creating a series of temporary outdoor works from balloons, ropes, ribbons, and texts that commemorated individuals and communities.

From Thur Jan 7

I made a diagonal piece an almost square rectangle turned on the diagonal & I will make more rectangular pieces turned diagonally— w. string for folds & the paint—it looks so much like sails—bec. it’s loose. Paint almost horizontal—a little off—I like it that way.

Things to think about—illusion—does it still happen w. o. a flat surface? It seems I’ve solved all the problems I set out to—getting my idiosyncratic choices out of there, taste and arrangement— making something that makes itself—letting things be themselves— finding a way that gives room to let colors play—the process makes the art—but now maybe it’s fine to take this so far and go further— the diagonal rectangle—will allow the fabric to drape whc. I’ve always wanted to have happen but would never see my way to letting happen—there never seemed to be justification 

With stain (long oblong shape) horizontal—they will look like water—definitely very liquid—& placid & natural as opposed to the very unplacid diagonal—whc. reminds me of sails and the string helps that connotation.

!Imagine that!—————–> A piece that’s 2 pieces of fabric—2 dif. fabrics ———————-

Macy’s tom. for fabric

Have to think up some way of putting down a lot of close colors all next to one another—watercolors and gouache.

Narrow minded bastards who think objects are only decoration— automatically assuming that bec. a thing is attractive or interesting to look at it’s not anything else. Real visual art has to continue—it’s a human need—to see challenging beautiful things—& beauty is in the nature of materials as equally as it is in thoughts, process, structures, activities, reactions. 

From April 23—Friday at work at quarter to 11

I wish I had a nice pen to write this with. There’s a great deal to catch up on. Ardrey says one’s needs are, first, identification within the group; second, sex & third, security. Let’s get the third over first.

The number of feelings I’ve gone thru this week—first getting myself used to the idea of a full-time job & then switching around & getting the nerve to go collect illegal unemployment.22 I hope it works. Thoughts of all the things I would buy if I had $ from a regular job—iron, typewriter, desk lamp—full-length mirror—clothes maybe—but it’s truly not worth it to work for things—they’ll come—it’s boring to write about all this bec. I’ve thought of it so much—

As for work—it is going good—I want to be doing more—I’m not sure the colors in the new piece aren’t too acceptably lovely to be interesting—and it’s going to take weeks to let 3 enamel stains dry. John gave me some good heavy paper—I want to use it to find a way to play w. colors—look for good ones w. my gouaches, pastels—it seems that my sensibility has moved from the def. applied textures of winter 69–70 to the textures in stuff. That’s a good move. I wonder abt. my drawings. I want to be doing another piece now. Maybe to do the red & cheesecloth again—Something with cheesecloth. It would be good I think to go back to materials after I’ve looked at what I’ve already done & how the stuff did.

It’s incredible how one’s feelings swing back and forth. When I was sure I had to work—the thought of getting dressed every day was horrid. Now today I found me wondering if I missed getting all cleaned up & feeling smooth & dressed up.

I wonder if dirty old Broome St. will get to me. I’ll need a fan. I should be able to afford one w. real economy next month. I’ll be able to do all those things I did last year—when I had lots of time—water the plants, stare at them, keep the place clean (well, cleaner), sit in the sun—read, daydream, sleep enough, write in my book, do exercises, cook cheap food—plus beach, Massachusetts. 

Fri. 1 PM Aug. 27

A pouring rain day.

It had better stop raining so hard. The roof upstairs is leaking & so is the upstairs fireplace. Muddy water has started coming through my fireplace…2 of my nice jars are sacrificed to catching leaks in the upstairs fireplace. Would it do any good to complain…I hate those guys so.

Last nite the woman’s march [1]. Very straight & concerned w. getting into politics. No euphoria just lots of women.

I’ve been making a lot of drawings—of impossible pieces—I like them bec. it’s a chance to play w. colors & all the possibilities of draping, tying, sewing, etc…w. o. $ & they can be unfettered by space & size…what they do is actualize in real materials— paintings—relations of colors & shapes & space. Donna said they were Baroque…whc. is true—they are complex & dramatic. I like them but they seem not to go far enough…I think I’ll make some simpler ones whc. show a few things more clearly…though simpler ones go against my nature whc. is Baroque I think…last night we looked at Colin Greenly’s work… glassy plastic crystal things— man-size decorations…are mine very different? Mine are more concerned w. the stuff they use…their forms come from what materials do…& what I can do to them…there’s color too…

1 This was the second women’s liberation march in New York to mark the anniversary of women’s suffrage and protest inequality. 

Image: Rosemary Mayer, Untitled, 1971. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Text copyright The Estate of Rosemary Mayer.