Feminism is a viewpoint that demands a rethinking of all structural relations in society. Feminism is powerful because it is true.
Martha Rosler is considered one of the strongest and most resolute artistic voices of her generation. She skillfully employs diverse materials to address pressing matters of her time, including war, gender roles, gentrification, inequality, and labor. From her feminist photomontages of the 1960s and 1970s to her large-scale installations, Rosler’s vital work reflects an enduring and passionate vision.
Martha Rosler: Irrespective showcases both well-known and rarely seen selections from more than five decades of work. Installations, photographic series, sculpture, and video represent a practice continually evolving and reacting to the shifting contours of political life. Throughout, Rosler’s work has been characterized by intellectual rigor and sharp wit, along with a sense of urgency directed at social and political issues that remain as relevant and immediate as when they first emerged.
Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator Darsie Alexander speaks with artist Martha Rosler on the occasion of her survey exhibition Martha Rosler: Irrespective at the Jewish Museum.
Martha Rosler knows that a well-formulated suggestion is far more likely to change the world — or at least someone’s mind — than any command or decree. “Every single thing I have offered to the public has been offered as a suggestion of work,” says the 75-year-old Brooklyn-born artist. Whether it’s her photomontages or videos, her sculptures or her installations, each offering retains a lively air of possibility and buzzes with the connective creative energy of a sketch — a feat made all the more impressive by her choice of subject matter: consumerism, feminism, gentrification, poverty, and war. Floating free of cynicism and buoyed by compassion, Rosler’s work can be devastatingly funny or amusingly devastating, and often both.
A multidisciplinary artist, writer and social activist, Martha Rosler has spent 50 years delivering biting feminist critiques on subjects ranging from gender to gentrification. But she is perhaps best known for her collages that juxtapose housekeeping ads with scenes from the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the Jewish Museum is focusing on these works and others as part of its survey “Martha Rosler: Irrespective.” Recently, Rosler sat down with us at her home and studio in Greenpoint to discuss her work, her neighborhood and the real meaning of cooking shows.
Trump is a familiar figure: a man who aspires to autocracy (after previously only aspiring to be a very rich and adored celebrity) and to the perks and privileges of kingship. He overcame his almost palpable shock and dismay at falling into the presidency, deciding to rely on others for advice while nevertheless opining and governing by whim. He makes no effort to represent all the people in the country and has refused to adopt the norms of modern governance by behaving in a civil and unifying way. His lies are overt and easily disprovable, his promises, insults, and threats are shocking, his self–interest and vindictiveness equally clear.
The first major New York survey of Ms. Rosler’s art in 18 years has opened at the Jewish Museum, and runs through March 3. For some, the show, “Martha Rosler: Irrespective,” may be an introduction to the prolific artist whose caustic work — in addition to photomontage and video, she creates installation, sculpture, performance and digital media — has been alternately admired and reviled by the public and the art world since the 1960s. Her exhibitions have focused on tenant struggles and homelessness; the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; public space; and — very often — the experiences of women.
As Alexander said in her presentation, Rosler is, “an artist who’s always worked against the grain” – and we quickly realized we agree, as “Irrespective” is indeed filled with thought-provoking work that challenges the norm.
A retrospective at the Jewish Museum spans Rosler’s five-decade career. Featuring installations, photographic series, sculpture, and video, the exhibit probes far beyond “Semiotics of the Kitchen” to show us one of the most witty and dogged feminist artists of our time. In one photo collage, blond women snap selfies in a mod mansion as flames blaze outside the windows. In an installation, various women’s lingerie and sleepwear congregate around a white mattress. The cluster of thongs and spanx and granny panties alludes to the stories clothes tell about the women who wear them. Or perhaps just the stories we buy into.
Nuanced but uncompromising, the video pretty much says it all. But it’s only one of the scores of photographs, videos and large-scale installations, from the 1960s to present, in “Martha Rosler: Irrespective,” a new retrospective at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.
Self-absorption at the expense of social awareness may seem like an Instagram-born epidemic, but consider the Emperor Nero’s theatrics as fires were ravaging Rome. Since the mid-nineteen-sixties, the trenchant Conceptualist Martha Rosler has been fighting art-as-escapism with photomontages, videotapes, and installations, targeting the hypocrisy of war, sexism, gentrification, and other concerns that remain disconcertingly relevant. Rosler is also funny—her montages, an ongoing project that began in the Vietnam era, anticipated the Internet’s viral memes by decades—and she understands the power of humor to drive a point home.
Martha Rosler’s first major New York museum show surveys her career by way of installations, photographs, videos, and sculptures. Among the themes addressed are war and consumerism, with a special eye toward gender norms and oppression. Curator Darsie Alexander said of the exhibition, “Martha Rosler’s direct, unvarnished take on current social and political circumstances is rooted in her belief in the capacity of art to teach, provoke, and ultimately motivate action in the people it reaches.”
Riding the crest of first-wave feminist art, Rosler initially crashed onto the shores of the art world in the ’60s with pieces noted for their firebrand politics. During that time, and continuing until today, she’s deployed videos, photomontages and installations against targets ranging from sexism and the Vietnam War to inequality and gentrification—conjoined fronts, in her view, in an ongoing battle for social justice. This survey brings her career into focus, with a selection of works spanning 1965 to the present.
Feminist photomontage, “Martha Rosler Reads Vogue” and other pointed works — photography, sculpture, installation and video — from 1965 to the present, from an artist whose creations are both scathing and playful.