Gillian Sneed on Rosemary Mayer

By Gillian SneedJanuary 26, 2024

Gillian Sneed on Rosemary Mayer
1:1 invites writers to reflect on a single work of art with focus, care, and imagination to expand how we view, receive, and write about art. 1:1 is organized and edited by Annie Buckley.

Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014) was a New York artist well known in the 1970s for her drawings, large-scale fabric sculptures, and site-specific installations. By the end of her life, her work seemed destined for obscurity, but a series of recent publications and exhibitions on the East Coast and in Europe have brought renewed attention to the artist. As part of this reconsideration, Mayer is finally getting her West Coast debut in the form of a pair of simultaneous exhibitions titled Noon Has No Shadows at two Los Angeles–area galleries: Marc Selwyn Fine Art and Hannah Hoffman Gallery. Featuring Mayer’s work from the 1970s–90s, both exhibitions were on view through December 23, 2023. 

On a recent Saturday afternoon in November, the galleries also presented Connections (Los Angeles), a previously unrealized installation by Mayer, on the terrace of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, where five white helium-inflated weather balloons floated festively above the rooftops, tethered by cords to weights on the ground. Each balloon was decorated with gleaming kite-like tails and handwritten words and numbers, such as Sirius, Poppy, and 21. The artist’s estate recreated the one-day installation from documentation of her other balloon installations, a delicately rendered drawing of the work (on view at Marc Selwyn Fine Art), and a written proposal for the work from her archive.

Mayer’s proposal for Connections describes the work as “an attempt to connect individuals to each other, to a place.” As I attended the four-hour gathering, a sense of joy, camaraderie, and connection—to each other and to the site—was palpable. As the balloons bobbed against the blue sky, their colorful and shiny streamers fluttered and glittered in the breeze. On the sunny terrace, artists and visitors sat on the AstroTurf and chatted while children flitted among the balloons, gently yanking at their tethers to test their heft and gravitational resistance.

Mayer had proposed an outdoor gathering in which participants would dedicate balloons to people important to them. To that end, her estate invited four Los Angeles–based artists and one collective to each “dedicate a balloon to a person of their choosing,” resulting in balloons dedicated to family members and friends, and one to the writer bell hooks. Invited artists included Barbara T. Smith, Nancy Stella Soto, Martine Syms, Guadalupe Rosales, and “h / e / li / os” (Hannah O’Brien, Ei Arakawa-Nash, Liz Berger, and Oscar Corona). Following Mayer’s protocols, they dedicated a balloon to a person important to them. Then, the balloons were inscribed with the name of that person, their birth or death date, a star in the sky, and a native Californian flower in bloom on that date.

Framed by the Wallis’s Spanish Renaissance architecture and the opulent cupola of Beverly Hills City Hall in the distance, the balloons danced. As the hours passed and the sun stretched across the sky, long shadows appeared, wavering against the pavement like afternoon ghosts. Invoking critic Barry Schwabsky’s description in a 2016 essay of the “untasted pleasures that the work of unfairly overlooked artists can offer,” the event conjured the delight implicit in “listening to messages that are new and old at once, immediate and yet issuing from a depth.”


Featured image: Rosemary Mayer, Connections (Los Angeles), 1978/2023, Promenade Terrace at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills, California, November 11, 2023, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Photograph by Gillian Sneed. Courtesy the Estate of Rosemary Mayer, New York.

LARB Contributor

Gillian Sneed is an assistant professor of art history in the School of Art and Design at San Diego State University. She co-edited, with Marie Warsh, The Letters of Rosemary & Bernadette Mayer, 1976–1980 (2022).


Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!