Charlotte Cotton on Robert Cumming

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As part of the Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums and Artists (A.i.A.‘s August issue), we preview the 2016-17 season of museum exhibitions worldwide. In addition to offering their own top picks, our editors asked select artists, curators and collectors to identify the shows they are looking forward to. Here, Charlotte Cotton talks about Robert Cumming.

“I’m so excited about this show because there hasn’t been an exhibition looking at Robert Cumming’s photographic practice in decades. He is a Midwesterner who went to California in the 1970s and became very much a part of the Conceptual photography movement there. He creates images that are really intricate and complex, yet still witty and energetic. His work has been very influential, but because he moved away from photography after the ’70s, this is the first chance to really evaluate and celebrate his contributions to the medium.

“Organizing a retrospective can be an existential experience, so you need a great double act. Cumming is at the point where he’s ready to reassess his work and think about it in detail, and the Bay Area writer Sarah Bay Gachot, who curated ‘The Secret Life of Objects,’ is able to channel and reanimate his ideas. It’s been a very fertile relationship. Aperture has already published a related book, The Difficulties of Nonsense, and Gachot’s text really is the essay of record on Cumming.

“The exhibition is designed to be not a ‘greatest hits’ type of show but rather a nuanced exploration of the artist, giving an evocative sense of who he is. Gachot includes some of Cumming’s sculptures, props, and sketches. His work feels very present because it has a real connection to the way artists today engage with photography—playing with two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, conflating time, and experimenting with materials. Cumming is a wonderful guide to the games you can play with photography and perception.” 

“Robert Cumming: The Secret Life of Objects,” George Eastman Museum, Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 11–May 28, 2017.

 

Charlotte Cotton is curator in residence at the International Center of Photography, New York.