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Media File
Robert Cumming
Date: American, b. 1943

Robert Cumming's photographic work is only one component of his production as a conceptual artist. His photographs are characterized by cerebral concepts that are nonetheless materially incorporated in oddly useful constructions. His interest in "perceptual glitches," magic tricks, paradoxes, and puns recalls the whimsical irony of Marcel Duchamp, and of his contemporaries Robert Heinecken and William Wegman. Cumming explores the relationships between text and images, and employs visual and linguistic humor in an ongoing investigation of everyday objects according to an "objective" sensibility. He has applied his often satirical and sometimes absurd engineering to fantasy machines and landscapes; his slightly romantic appreciation of industrial-era mechanics is part of a long-standing interest in technology and its relationship to society and perception.

Unlike other conceptual artists who have used photography instrumentally, Cumming pays careful attention to the craft of the medium. He often builds functional constructions in order to photograph them, and both structure and image demonstrate a concern for careful execution. The influence of his training under Art Sinsabaugh is evidenced by his use of an 8x10 view camera in his early work; he later moved to a medium format. Cumming is interested in demystifying artistic conventions in photography. He calls attention to the artifice of images, extending the photograph beyond the illusion of the scene to include the props, tools, and lighting devices, and simultaneously questions and confuses the boundaries between real life and fiction. Cumming, who has taught at art schools and universities around the country, has won numerous awards, including four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980-81. He has had major retrospective exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, in San Diego.

Lisa Soccio

Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 212.