“Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century” is the first exposition of the New Museum. Redefining preconceived notions about modern art, the thirty artists who participated in the collaborative show collectively reinforced an artistic statement that defies the constraints of contemporary expectations. Despite all coming from different backgrounds, there is a conceptual thread that could be drawn through the body of the varied artist’s work. Fabricating sculptures, collages and multi-media art through the means of namely “les objets trouve”, the artists unveil an inclination to further delve into the controversial proposition put forth by artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol regarding the nature of art.
Despite the multitude of talented artists lacing the walls of the exposition, the work of Martha Rosler caught my eye. In the series “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful”, Martha Rosler appropriates photographs found in magazine from the 1960’s aimed at shedding awareness on the atrocities of the Vietnam War and coupling them with images from Life magazine[i]. Dissecting the complexities of how the media transforms the domestic domain, Rosler’s layered images renders collaged compositions that serve as a social critique of the geopolitical war waged overseas. In my opinion, her art unveils how the ramifications of war creep into our living rooms by way of the media- who present it as if it were a form of perverse entertainment. Like the anti-Nazi posters produced by John Heartfield (whose art was conceptualized in a similar vein)[ii], Rosler’s work is an expression of her fury and sociopolitical stance. She is explicit about using a critique as the framework of her art. Appropriating scaring images of current social issues, Rosler constructs a powerful juxtaposition via placing these violent depictions in various unlikely contexts- such as the pristine kitchen of a middle class family. Through the multi-media collages, Rosler advocates the public’s need to react rather than ignore the socioeconomic decay and the political distress plaguing the United States at this point and time. She illustrates that society at large has grown immune and indifferent to the incomprehensible brutality that is incessantly taking place around the world. For Rosler, those who keep silent all have blood on their hands.
Rosler’s prolific body of work can be characterized by its diversity in mediums. Although this series was fabricated through the compilation of collaged images, Rosler also employs films, photo text, projects, literary critiques and installations to delineate her message[iii]. The methodology with which she executes her controversial images is well calculated and aesthetically successful. Although namely featured in exhibits in New York City, her work successfully breaches the transnational borders that divide one country from another. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that images have the facility to break down cultural and linguistic walls. A retrospective of her art career has graced galleries and museums throughout Europe.[iv] Despite working part time as a professor at the Stadelschule in Frankfurt, Germany, Rosler’s primary residence is in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised[v]. The city inspires the conceptual framework she erects that informs the methodology she employs. In her words, “the subject is the commonplace—I am trying to use video to question the mythical explanations of everyday life. We accept the clash of public and private as natural, yet their separation is historical. The antagonism of the two spheres, which have in fact developed in tandem, is an ideological fiction—a potent one. I want to explore the relationships between individual consciousness, family life, and culture under capitalism.”[vi]
[i] “Martha Rosler: Red Stripe Kitchen (2002.393)”. In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 (October 2006) http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cncp/ho_2002.393.htm
[ii] “Martha Rosler: Red Stripe Kitchen (2002.393)”. In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)