Archive | In Retrospect

Women’s History Month – Maureen Cummins


I had no idea when I first encountered Maureen Cummins’ work that I would someday have the privilege of hosting an exhibition of this work (the gallery hosted In Retrospect in 2010, a traveling exhibition featuring the work of Maureen Cummins, Nava Atlas and Ann Lovett), and including it in gallery inventory.

I was so enthralled with my first glimpse of her work that the glance turned into a lengthy examination. This happened during a visit to Norlin Library’s Special Collection at the University of Colorado, Boulder Campus. On display in a cabinet featuring new arrivals was Crazy Quilt. On request Maureen’s other items in that collection were retrieved for me to view.
Maureen Cummins

The bright colors and accessible format of Crazy Quilt make this work instantly approachable. It feels familiar and comfortable, almost cheerful, thus employing one of Cummins’ well used tactics – the instant visual appeal of her work supported by a high level of craft and scholarship. This effectively delays the discovery that these works are about some very unpleasant aspects of history, both personal and from various archives.

By her own admission Cummins is interested in motifs that people have very superficial reactions to. She pulls people in, and surprises them.

“They’re expecting one thing, and then they get another. It’s almost like an ambush.”

Images 1

In Crazy Quilt, Cummins presents experiences of women  in an assemblage of 150 years of quotes from women institutionalized for mental illness. This motif is both a reference to the fact that women in Victorian asylums were forced to sew and the unwanted, useless scraps that are part of the crazy quilt style. The quotes, presented in a text resembling embroidery, range,  from the famous (Zelda Fitzgerald) to the more personal inclusion of a passage of a letter written by the artist’s mother, Dolores Bodkin Cummins. In the passage included in Crazy Quilt Dolores describes the doctors treating patients like rats in a maze.

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Crazy Quilt opens fully to a format that mimics a crazy quilt layout with individual square panels making up the whole, while the “crazy quilt” style, with its use of useless and unwanted scraps of fabric, is a commentary on the position of marginalized populations in our society.

Cummins work with historical record continues, each successive work raising the bar of content/concept presentation with appropriate structure and material.

More about her two recent projects Salem Lessons and The Poetics of Torture can be found in Abecedarian Gallery’s online shop.

Fan frontMCummins 1

In Retrospect: works on paper and books by Ann Lovett, Maureen Cummins and Nava Atlas

A Reading Room exhibition, In Retrospect opens April 1 and remains on view through May 8, 2010. It is the first venue in a several state tour of this exhibition by three notable contemporary book artists and the only scheduled venue west of the Mississippi.
Ann Lovett

Maureen Cummins

Nava Atlas

In Retrospect presents the work of three artists who explore contemporary culture through the lens of the past. Their shared source of inspiration is the book, a form that, while intimate and familiar, also carries with it the weight of history and the voice of authority.

As such, it provides a reference point from which to challenge personal and cultural constructions of knowledge. All three artists delve into public and private archives to gather images, documents, texts, and ephemera as source material. Rearranging and combining these found elements with new material, they create provocative new works that expose biases and question assumptions about what we know and how we know it.
For the viewer, new meanings and interpretations emerge as official versions of history and reality are subverted.
The found materials in these books are textual as well as visual, both common and rarified; the collections from which they are culled are varied and diverse, from libraries and museums to flea markets and dumpsters.

Maureen CumminsThe work of Maureen Cummins is inspired by old letters, documents, and photographs that she collects and lives with in her studio. She infuses wrenching subjects (including slavery, insanity, and torture) into motifs such as quilts, photo albums and ledgers, subverting the traditional values and gentility usually embodied in these ordinary objects.

Ann LovettAnn Lovett draws source material from historical archives and museum collections, as well as from personal documentation. Her work explores individual and collective memory, the culture of memorials, and institutional control of sites of war, trauma, and loss.

26. Atlas6Nava Atlas draws from personal collections of everyday ephemera, including pinup photos, advice columns, vintage food images, and old comic books. These texts and images, arranged in ironic juxtapositions, question intransigent assumptions about gender.

In the books as well as their related wall installations, intimacy and insight emerge in a variety of ways. By employing beauty and craft—in the form of sensual materials, compelling imagery, and both ancient and modern technologies—these artists draw their audience into difficult subject matter. They seek to navigate the very dualities of life itself: pleasure and pain, appearance and reality, past and present, what is represented and what is experienced.

In voices ranging from contemplative to impassioned, from ironic to vehement, the works in this exhibit generate an experience of wonder and revelation that is both personal and political.