Rethinking Everyday Life

Politics Is Everywhere in Martha Rosler’s 30-Year Retrospective

ROSLER HAS SAID THAT HER WORK IS A SERIES OF DECOYS. A WORK BRIEFLY masquerades as one thing, "but the more you look at it, the more you see that it's asking you to think about something else." For example, there's the "Monumental Garage Sale." Rosler did a couple of them as performances/installations while living in California in the '70s. Now the usual landscape of discarded "treasure" fills the public gallery in the New Museum's basement: old dresses, kitchen utensils, stuffed animals, dog-eared mysteries. The sale is very much for real, with profits going to charity. But, the artist points out, this piece "also asks you to think again about the structure of desire and possession in America." In one back corner, shoppers can watch a video of an earlier sale and listen to Rosler asking questions like "Is it a betrayal to sell the housecoat? Are we all petty capitalists?" On a chalkboard nearby, she's written, "Maybe the Garage Sale is a metaphor for the mind." Mostly, people don't seem to notice. Mostly, Rosler observes, they just shop, "a self-fulfilling prophecy of the piece itself."

Rosler has recently "succumbed," she says, to photographing in the subway system. She's already spent years photographing in airports, calling them the quintessential postmodern space, "a space of desire, all about being somewhere else; a space of uniformity and self-effacement, exclusion and surveillance, totally controlled.

"There really is something to think about there, about how we construct those spaces. It's not a sociology I'm looking for so much as a geopolitics of space. It's just like the garage sale, the way our world reflects our worldview."

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