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Augustine Boyce Cummings

Dangerous Ground

Starting October 22nd

Reception for the Artist
Friday, October 22nd, 5-8pm

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Augustine Boyce Cummings
Dangerous Ground

Christopher Reiger

I met Boyce Cummings in the fall of 2000, when we both began the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts (New York City). Flipping through one another’s sketchbooks and looking at the work on our studio walls, it was clear we shared a deep affinity for non-human animals.

Our love of other critters isn’t just rooted in our fascination with and fondness for their behavior and appearance, however; we both recognize ourselves – humanity – in them, and feel other species have much to teach us about our own nature.

In his paintings and drawings of the early 2000s, Cummings used animal imagery to represent the human unconscious and the workings of society at large, and some of these – 2001’s Polar Bear and Puma – are included in Dangerous Ground. In fact, the exhibition is something of a survey; we get to see earlier pieces hanging alongside works Cummings completed just this year, such as Treadle or Circus Horse. There are fewer animals front and center in his more recent work, but the timespan covered by the show allows us to better appreciate the throughlines.

All of paintings and drawings showcase Cummings’ collage aesthetic and facile line work - immediate, graphic, and bold, but also graceful and emotive – and dark humor, violence, and contradiction are evident throughout.

His pictures are also heavy with images - stars, skulls, arrows, rockets, and jets, for example - that we freight with archetypal associations. Present, too, are more cryptic or ambiguous signs and characters. Consider the contraptions that appear in many of his works. While it seems clear that the machine in Treadle is some weapon of conquest, the origin or purpose of the trumpet-like forms attached to a tree branch in Barricade are less apparent. Is the tree branch growing from the manufactured parts? Or is it the other way around? This dynamic reflects humanity’s station, a winking reminder, perhaps, that we shape and manipulate nature even as we are shaped and manipulated by it.

Yet, while there is playfulness, these paintings remind us that violence and injustice are ever present. Ever present, too – perhaps ever more present – are corrupted and distorted ideologies. In 2018’s Best Made Plans/MLK, Cummings includes an irregular Necker cube, a familiar optical illusion. I generally think of the “impossible cube” as a symbol of life's push-pull ambivalence and contradiction, but it can also be seen as a representation of misinformation, a coherent form made incoherent. In the context of Best Made Plans/MLK, the cube makes me think about the different ways King’s clarion words can be understood or misunderstood, even warped, by various audiences, and then marshaled toward very different ends.

Ambivalence and contradiction are presented in another way in 2015’s Black Angel. In it, a white dove seems to kiss – or bless, perhaps? – the titular figure. The angel is proud and beautiful, but Cummings’ chooses to model it after the oh-so-white angels depicted in innumerable Renaissance Annunciation paintings. On one hand, by making this stereotypically white form Black, Cummings is engaged in heroic reassessment and reclamation. On the other, one gets the sense that the artist’s endeavor is meant to be viewed with skepticism and a bit of melancholy; the angel is Black, beautiful, and proud, but still colored within the confines of white/European contours.

Similarly, Cummings embraces his artistic inheritance with nods in style and technique to other Black American artist greats including Basquiat and Jacob Lawrence, but some of those nods are read, by me, at least, as a middle finger of defiance, a desire to emphasize that each of us is more than the artist bio or quick pitch. Take, for example, Cummings’ considered decision to display so many of his works with raw or shredded edges or grommeted like old sailing canvases; it’s at once a wholehearted embrace of the way the capital “A” art world expects a Black artist to work and also a critique of it – an earnest hug and a hard elbow, at the same time.

Some of these techniques are on display in the construction of his imposing collage, Sophistry 2, a dramatic work composed of many mounted ink or graphite drawings, each a page from the same sketchbook, and here and there augmented with gold paper backing, colored pencil, or paint. A griffin dominates the foreground and the background is a rendition of the United States flag, reversed. Cummings adds numerous small vignettes and symbols, as well, including some – a cross, rose, and crown – that tie this griffin to its Christian associations with divine power. Coupled with the Stars and Stripes, the mythical creature calls to mind militaristic heraldry and its ties to religious crusades, past and present. Yet everything is cobbled together, literally, the griffin and the artwork itself, and seems as though it may be on the verge of coming apart. Cummings uses the gold paper backing almost as a kind of kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold such that the precious metal highlights the flaws and imperfections, thereby making the repaired vessel even more beautiful. Yet here, it seems, the gold “repairs” may be intended as distractions. Look closely, and we see brutality, death, money, power. At what price, glory?, Cummings asks us. And for how long?

Because he is an artist who confronts such difficult subjects, Cummings wrestles, as so many of us do, with his role as a contemporary artist. 2007’s For Red Sofas is dominated by reds, pinks, and whites, and features the almost-all-red male Northern cardinal perched atop a linework frame. The title winks at the reality that many art collectors take interior design considerations into account when they make a purchase, but it also speaks to the tension that exists for an artist making work animated by hunger for substantive change, knowing that the artwork will function, at least in part, as mere decoration.

All of these threads – our animal-ness, mischief, violence (or its possibility), contradiction, and social critique – come together in 2023’s Dog Walker. In it, a Black man walks his dog outdoors in a sparse forest or perhaps an urban park. But there is something amiss. Cummings’ linework is uncharacteristically coarse, scribbled, in places, and anxious – rare, here, are the graceful  swoops and curves. The painting’s principal subjects are angular and tense. The dog’s back is a blocky arch, the man’s green Sunday Best suit is a collection of simple polygons, and the two are connected by a leash, taut and unyielding. The man’s face has been replaced by a shield, white and brown, a nod, perhaps, to the way Black Americans sometimes “code-switch” as a form a defense and offense. I can’t look at Dog Walker without thinking of the depressingencounter Christian Cooper, a black birder, had with an entitled white woman in Central Park in 2020. 

Cooper was verbally accosted for politely reminding the woman that her dog should be leashed while in the park. The woman then further upped the ante by calling the police and reporting that she was being “threatened by an African American man.” While Cooper had not threatened her, the call she made is, for all intents and purposes, a death threat. As the wonderful teacher, poet, and birder J. Drew Lanham wrote at the time, “What happened to Christian… was about being black in America. The knowledge that some people hold enmity toward you simply because of the color of your skin is corrosive to the soul. 

Whether black people are watching birds, jogging through a neighborhood, or sleeping in their own bed, the racist marrow within this country's bones is a constant threat.” And that, for me, is what Dog Walker is about, a simple, everyday domestic moment made electric by the possibility, ever present, of a terrible turn, a turn itself made possible by our culture’s cultivation or acceptance of inequality. Cummings is comfortable with dark humor, violence, and contradiction, but it seems to me his works don’t just function as a critique of our accepted social structures. There’s dreaming in the work, too, of our evolving beyond the fraught status quo to build and embrace something better.

Catalog Available
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Augustine Boyce Cummings

Augustine Boyce Cummings, a Denver native, is a New York-based artist with a remarkable career. He’s earned prestigious awards, including The Rome Prize and a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship. Cummings exhibits his art globally, from a 2000 sq ft installation with SITE:LAB to the New American Talent 19 exhibition. His artistic journey began at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where he was a Merit Scholar, and he holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

Cummings received The Rome Prize, as well as a fellowship from The Civitella Ranieri Foundation. He has grants from ARTISTSPACE in NYC, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. His art is in renowned collections, including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and Agnes Gund’s private collection.

Cummings is an Instructor at The Art Students League of New York, nurturing future artists. He also serves on the Board of Directors at Smack Mellon, a Dumbo, Brooklyn non-profit arts organization, supporting emerging artists. Augustine Boyce Cummings is a dedicated, talented artist committed to the arts.


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Solo Exhibitions

2023 - Mosaic Artspace, Long Island City New York
2021 - Appearances. Bantam Arts Factory, Bantam, CT
2018 - An American Dream. Drawing installation. SITE:LAB. ARTPRIZE. Grand Rapids, MI (Curated by Paul Amenta)
2015 - Stubborn Truths. Projekt722 Gallery. Brooklyn, NY(Curated by Jeremiah Tiepan)
2007 - Fellow Exhibition. American Academy in Rome, Italy
2007 - Camouflage. Jonathan Shorr Gallery. NY, NY
2007 - Versus. Winkleman Gallery. NY, NY
2007 - Boyce Cummings. Jonathan Shorr Gallery. NY, NY
2006 - Boyce Cummings. Crosby Gallery. NY, NY
1999 - Boyce Cummings. Forsheim Gallery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY

Selected Group Exhibitions

2022 - Instructors Exhibition. Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery. The Art Students League of New York. NY, NY
2022 - Gravity Racers. Smack Mellon. Brooklyn, NY
2020 - Cicatrix, curated by Eun Young Choi and Sewon Oh. Cindy Rucker Gallery. NY, NY
2019 - Instructors Exhibition. Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery. The Art Students League of New York. NY, NY
2019 - Heaven and Hell. 3-person exhibition, Julian Calderon curator. Juvenal Reis Gallery LIC, Queens, NY
2019 - Life on an Island. 19 “Castaways” cycle 1. School of Visual Arts alumni exhibition. Mark Ramos curator. Governors Island, NY
2018 - Instructors Exhibition. Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery. The Art Students League of New York. NY, NY
2017 - Fellows Exhibition. Augustine Boyce Cummings, Jackie Saccocio, Milton Momen, Carl D’Alva. Civitella Ranieri Foundation.
            Umbertide province of Perugia, Italy
2015 - Small Works. Projekt722 Gallery. Brooklyn, NY
2014 - Ten. Cindy Rucker Gallery. NY, NY
2013 - Groundswell 17th Annual exhibition and auction. Christie’s Auction House. NY, NY
2013 - Summer Selections. Denise Bibro Fine Art. NY, NY
2012 - Art and Social Activism. Nicholas Cohn Art Projects. Qns, NY
2011 - GAGA Arts Center. Garnersville, NY
2011 - Provisions. Nathan Cummings Foundation. NY, NY
2010 - Art Stars of The 21st Century. GAGA Arts Center. Garnersville, NY
2010 - Escape From New York. Olympia Lampert curator. Paterson Arts Council. Paterson, NJ
2009 - Two Degrees Of Separation. Gallery Satori. NY, NY
2009 - Gone To The Dogs. Denise Bibro Gallery. NY, NY
2009 - Aspiration Inspiration. The Wassaic Project. Wassaic, NY (Curated by Nicholas Cohn)
2009 - Lover. On Stellar Rays Gallery. NY, NY (Curated by Candace Madey)
2009 - Double Dutch. GAGA Arts Center. Garnersville, NY (Curated by Jon Shorr)
2008 - Fountain Art Fair. Jonathan Shorr Gallery. Miami, FL
2008 - Animus Botanica. Denise Bibro Gallery. NY, NY
2008 - Flight of the Mechanical Bee. Korean Cultural Center. NY, NY (Curated by Eun Young Choi)
2008 - White on White. Number 35 Gallery. NY, NY
2008 - Art Futures, New Talent. Gallery Camino Real. Boca Raton, FL
2007 - Delicatessen. Florida Atlantic University. Boca Raton, FL (Curated by Dianna Sphungin; chaired panel, lecturer)
2006 - Aqua Art Fair. Aqua Hotel, Winkleman Gallery. Miami, FL
2006 - Year 06 Art Fair. Winkleman Gallery. London, England, UK
2005 - Theory. Jonathan Shorr Gallery. NY, NY
2005 - Group Show. Air Space. NY, NY
2004 - Americano’s. Arcaute Arte Contemporaneo. Monterrey, Mexico
2004 - Graphic. Fredericks Freiser Gallery. NY, NY
2004 - Slice and Dice. Visual Arts Gallery. NY, NY
2004 - The Truck Stops Here. Plus Ultra Gallery. Brooklyn, NY
2004 - TRANSMOTION. Semi Tractor Trailor. 48 ft flatbed semi-truck mobile kinetic sculpture, NYC mobile installation with Alois Kronshlaeger,
            Kate Gilmore, Diane Carr, Tom Lendvai, Elaine Chow, Chris Rieger, Robyn Winston
2003-2007 - NEW AMERICAN TALENT #19. Curated by Jerry Saltz. ArtHouse Texas. The Jones Center for the Arts. Austin, TX
2003 - Lost Dog Found. 526 Gallery. NY, NY
2003 - “Open” Group exhibition. “Pop-up” gallery. ARTISTSPACE independent project. Long Island City, NY
2002 - Just Add Water. Wooster Gallery. NY, NY (Juried)
2001 - Synthetic Dystopia. Curated by Loren Madsen. Wooster Gallery. NY, NY
2001 - Floors and Walls. Visual Arts Gallery. NY, NY (Juried)


2019 - The Art Students League of New York. Instructor Lectures
2017 - Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Umbertide province of Perugia, Italy. Fellow Presentation
2015 - Nassau College. Garden City, NY. Artist Guest lecturer
2009 - School of Visual Arts, MFA program. NY, NY. Alumni Artist, Guest lecturer
2007 - The American Academy in Rome. Rome, Italy. Artist Fellow Presentation
2007 - Florida Atlantic University. Boca Raton, FL. Exhibiting Artist; Guest lecturer and Panelist
2006 - Temple University (abroad). Rome, Italy. Guest Lecturer and MFA critiques
1999 - Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Forsheim Gallery. Bronx, NY. Exhibiting Artist

about MAS
Showing by appointment
49-28 31st Place, Long Island City, NY 11101
T: 888.MOSAIC2

About Mosaic Artspace

Mosaic ArtSpace (MAS) is a multi-discipline art venue that aspires to showcase and promote various artistic endeavors with outreach to painters, sculptors, musicians, video, performance, installation artists. 
MAS hosts the artwork of local artists and artists from the NY Metropolitan area and other cities.
MAS seeks to create a dialogue with issues of contemporary art practices to encourage, support and expand creativity and self-expression. To create an environment in which the arts flourish and enrich the quality of life.


© 2022 MOSAIC artspace

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