Martha Rosler – Photomontage, Video, Sculpture and Installation
I visited the exhibition Martha Rosler: Irrespective at the Jewish Museum in New York (November 2, 2018 – March 3, 2019), a five-decade retrospective of works by the artist, including installation, sculpture, video, photography and photo-collage. Rosler (American, b. 1943) is a Brooklyn-based artist and was born and raised in New York, graduated from Brooklyn College (1965) and the University of California, San Diego (1974).
The image above shows two installations. The formal banquet dining table with cloth and candelabra is titled A Gourmet Experience. It was one of Rosler’s earliest large-scale works and was part of her Brooklyn College master of fine arts thesis exhibition in 1974. On the wall behind the table are slide projections. Photo by Jason Mandella. Image courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Video component courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
The right side of the image above shows an installation that includes lingerie-clad mannequins hanging from the ceiling, attached to the wall, or propped on a metal chair or pedestal. This installation is titled Objects With No Titles. See the full image below. Photo by Jason Mandella, Image: Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
The Jewish Museum website included personal commentary by Eden Rachel Chinn, a Digital Intern, who said she saw humor in Martha Rosler’s Objects With No Titles and wrote “When I first saw Objects With No Titles, I laughed. The sculptural installation is comprised of polyester batting comically forced into women’s lingerie, suspended from floor to ceiling. This installation invites us to reexamine what has changed since the work was first installed in 1973, and added: Nothing has changed.“ Read it here.
Cut and Paste Photomontage
The earliest works at Martha Rosler: Irrespective were cut-and-paste photomontage, a collage technique. The image above is titled Makeup/Hands Up and is from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, c. 1967-72. The original was photomontage. This work is a pigmented inkjet print, 23 ¾ x 13 15/16 inches (printed 2011).
Makeup/Hands Up shows a close-up view of a model with manicured nails applying highlighter makeup under her brows. The original media is a color photo and pasted in the middle is a smaller B&W war photo that shows a woman forced to march at gunpoint with her hands up.
The image above shows the installation Objects With No Titles (1973/2018). It includes lingerie-clad mannequins hanging from the ceiling, attached to the wall, or propped on a metal chair or pedestal. Photo by Jason Mandella, Image: Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
The image above is titled Cleaning the Drapes, and is one of twenty works from the early series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (c. 1967-1972). Photo: courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NY. This work is a pigmented inkjet print (photomontage), 17 15/16 x 23 ¾ inches, printed in 2011, and shows a woman with a 1960’s haircut vacuuming gold brocade drapes that are pulled back to reveal a view of the Vietnam War right outside the window, an image of the war people could have seen on the nightly news or in the newspaper at that time. This work is Rosler’s feminist critique of American involvement in Vietnam. Roster said: “Pretty much everyone hated my work when I made it, except for the feminists.”
Martha Rosler considered these works agitprop and distributed them as Xeroxed flyers at anti-war demonstrations.
The Grey Drape (2008), seen above, is a photomontage Rosler created to reprise her House Beautiful Bringing the War Home series – this time done in 2004 and 2008 as protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She revised the title to House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series.
Many critics were not kind to the new series. They said Rosler showed a lack of imagination and innovation. Jerry Saltz wrote a review titled “Welcome to the Sixties, Yet Again” in New York Magazine (2008). The title says it all. Read it here.
I found a positive review of Rosler’s work in a post by Melissa Huang (dated June 18, 2011) who wrote she found it interesting that Rosler was examining events and media imagery with the same eye as in the late 60’s and early 70’s, adding, the two series blend together as if Americans were as oblivious to the war in Iraq as they were previously to the war in Vietnam. She included a quote by Rosler defending her reprise of the series:
“I wanted to – even at the loss of some self-pride – go back to something that I had done many years before in exactly the same way, or as close a way as I could, to say…I must return to exactly the same form because we have sunk back to the same level, of a kind of indifferent relationship to what our country is doing. I wanted specifically to evoke a mood and invoke a way of working, to say, “Tout la change, tout la meme chose.”
The image above is titled Invasion, photomontage, 2008. This work shows a tank flanked by an army of men in identical black suits. See an online slideshow of Rosler’s Irrespective exhibition at the Mitchell-Innes and Nash Gallery.
Charles Moffat uses the headline “Embracing Controversy” in an article about Martha Rosler at The Art History Archive. He writes:
“…Her work can be formally complex, politically powerful and uncannily funny — sometimes all at once. She is a master manipulator of images: cutting, pasting, decontextualizing, mimicking, and rearranging our expectations.
Rosler’s works have been displayed in several Whitney Biennials (1979, 1983, 1987, 1990), major national and international museums, and the Venice Biennale (2003). She has received Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1975, 1976, 1980, 1983 and 1984). She is a published author, including books, catalogues and periodicals.