Photo: Robert Cumming, Prop Shoes, 1975

First major survey of Cumming's work in nearly 20 years; Exhibition preview on Friday, February 17 

Rochester, N.Y. (February 10, 2017-The George Eastman Museum will present Robert Cumming: The Secret Life of Objects, the first major US exhibition in nearly twenty years dedicated to the evolution of artist Robert Cumming's practice. The exhibition will be on view February 18 through May 28, 2017. 

The Secret Life of Objects traces the trajectory of Cumming's work through several decades and focuses on his singular appreciation for the power of objects in art. Perception, language, and the nuances of photographic vision are common themes in the work, and his method of portraying the physically impossible so that it appears visually accurate has its roots in his early career as a painter, sculptor, performance artist, and mail artist. In his photographic work-the majority of which he made in Southern California during the 1970s-Cumming embraced the illusion and reality of the medium: that photographs can spin artifice regardless of how true they appear. By intentionally including studio lighting, wires, and messy elements of construction, or "a means by which one can unravel the fabrication," he creates visual narratives that unfold over time. 

"Robert Cumming has inspired conceptual artists and photographers through many mediums, especially the photographic work he made in Southern California in the 1970s," said Sarah Bay Gachot, exhibition curator.  "With a focus on this decade, The Secret Life of Objects abounds with Cumming's photographs of ingenious fictions using mundane materials, as well as other non-photographic works: sculpture, mail art, printmaking, painting, and objects from the artist's ongoing exploration of nautical architecture." 

Guest curator Sarah Bay Gachot, a writer, curator, artist, and teacher based in Los Angeles,  has written and lectured about Cumming and his profound impact on the history of photography and the development of Conceptual art in the 1970s, and is considered to be the foremost expert on Robert Cumming. 

Robert Cumming: The Secret Life of Objects is supported by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and an anonymous donor. 

Public Programming
Exhibition Preview

Friday, February 17, 6-8 p.m.

Exhibition curator Sarah Bay Gachot will give remarks in the Dryden Theatre at 6 p.m., and artist Robert Cumming will be present. Cash bar and light refreshments. $15 general admission, $10 students, free for museum members. Reservations are required by calling (585) 234-6064 or e-mailing membership@eastman.org. 

Gallery Talks

Saturday, February 18, 1 p.m. with Exhibition Curator Sarah Bay Gachot

Saturday, March 18, 1 p.m. with Curatorial Assistant William Green

Gallery talks are included with museum admission.

About Robert Cumming

Robert Cumming was born in Massachusetts in 1943. He received his MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Illinois. After school, he turned to mail art and sculpture, shipping tree branches and dry cleaning tissue, as well as illogical yet "utilitarian-looking" sculptures (that were devoid of utility), around the world. After school Cumming taught at the university level for three years while participating in several group shows throughout the Midwest. By 1970, he moved to Southern California and began to build elaborate tableaux that he photographed in exquisite detail with an 8-by-10 camera.  In 1973, Cumming first exhibited his photographs as part of Minor White, Robert Heinecken, Robert Cumming: Photograph as Metaphor, Photograph as Object, Photograph as Document of Concept, at California State University, Long Beach. During the 1970s he also produced six artist's books comprised of photographs, drawings, and text. Cumming has exhibited his work internationally and across the United States with stops at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. 

About Sarah Bay Gachot

Sarah Bay Gachot is an arts writer, curator, educator, and artist who lives in Los Angeles. She edited and wrote the essay for Robert Cumming: The Difficulties of Nonsense, published by Aperture in 2016. Previously, Sarah was a fellow in the photography and contemporary art departments of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She holds a master's degree in art history from the University of California Riverside. Publications include Aperture magazine, Hyperallergic, the Photo-Eye Blog, ArtSlantThe PhotoBook Review, and The Daily Beast, as well as several essays for artist's books and catalogs. 

About the George Eastman Museum

Founded in 1947, the George Eastman Museum is the world's oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States, located on the historic Rochester estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Its holdings comprise more than 400,000 photographs, 28,000 motion picture films, the world's preeminent collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the leading libraries of books related to photography and cinema, and extensive holdings of documents and other objects related to George Eastman. As a research and teaching institution, the Eastman Museum has an active publishing program and, through its two joint master's degree programs with the University of Rochester, makes critical contributions to the fields of film preservation and of photographic preservation and collection management. For more information, visit www.eastman.org. 

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PRESS IMAGES are available for download: https://eastmanmuseum.box.com/v/robertcumming

 

Media Contact: Kellie Fraver, Public Relations Manager
kfraver@eastman.org
(585) 271-3361 ext. 213

Photo: Robert Cumming, Prop Shoes, 1975