This winter, Mitchell-Innes & Nash will present an exhibition of feminist art by Martha Rosler centered on her work from the 1960s and 70s. martha rosler: changing the subject… in the company of others, on view from December 8, 2022, through January 21, 2023, will present photomontages, videos, and sculpture that deepen the understanding of Rosler’s feminist landscape—one that feels increasingly relevant today. It is the artist’s first solo show in New York since her exhibition Irrespective at the Jewish Museum (2018).
The works on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash exemplify what might be called a kaleidoscopic approach to feminism and politics. Countering the persistent idea that political and feminist expressions are separate and unconnected, Rosler insists that what concerns women is inescapably political and, in turn, that political art can be—must be—feminist.
The exhibition will feature 31 photomontages that fall under the rubric of Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, which Rosler began in the mid-1960s in New York and continued until about 1972 in California. To shine a light on the simplicity of her process, the show will include a selection of the preparatory constructions that underlie these works. Assembled primarily from glossy print ads and news, fashion, and home-making magazines, together with some surprising materials that derive from the collage tradition, these works offer often-derisive critiques of the pressures and fantasies brought to bear on women and girls. House Beautiful: The Colonies (c. 1969-72), Rosler’s series focusing on Cold War space exploration pursued in dramatic competition with the Soviet Union, will also be on view. Rosler integrates extra-terrestrial backdrops and moon-landing imagery with earth-bound scenes and domestic interiors, pointing to the likely extension of the middle-class ordinariness and corrosive toxicity of the American Dream as it colonizes the “next frontier.”
Juxtaposed with the relative coolness of the framed photomontages, the exhibition will also include a selection of works in other media that also attests to Rosler’s interests beyond the frame and, indeed, beyond the exhibition space as a mode of distribution.
One body of work encompasses sculpture that mobilizes other ways of telling, including floor-mounted photography with an audio track (She Sees in Herself a New Woman Every Day, 1976) and soft sculptures constructed from an array of domestic materials, including secondhand clothing, well-used cloth diapers, and even tiny plants. Like collage, Rosler’s soft sculpture reflects a Pop sensibility centered on the consumerist “second nature” that came to dominate everyday life rather than the transcendent aims of abstraction but that inevitably harks back to the surrealist fascination with obsolescence. Objects With No Titles (c. 1971-73), a sculptural array of women’s lingerie stuffed to bulging with generic batting, suggests the never-ending attempt to inculcate in women the desire to sculpt their bodies to definable norms. In proximity with the idealized forms found in the clothing advertisements in Body Beautiful, Rosler’s soft sculpture is an acute critique of societal attempts to confine and bind the body.
This exhibition will include a dedicated screening space for a selection of films and videos from the 1970s onward, including the iconic videos Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and Martha Rosler Reads Vogue (1982) as well as Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (1977) and Losing: A Conversation with the Parents (1977).
In subsequent years, Rosler enlarged her engagement with installation works, here referenced by a slice of her work A Gourmet Experience (first staged in 1975). Ostensibly about a woman’s desire to elevate her culinary skills to feed her family and friends, the work engages with the complex discourse of high-end consumption and refined knowledge, with a large dose of social status and colonial explorations.
The impetus for Rosler’s Body Beautiful photomontage series came from feminist lectures she attended while still a student, in the mid-1960s. Women activists demonstrated how advertisements represented women as toys and other, compliant playthings: “bedroom appliances,” in Rosler’s words. These works marked Rosler’s sustained engagement with what she considered to be the unacknowledged politicized representations of women, embedded in discourses of power and subordination. Together, the works on view demonstrate Rosler’s engagement with feminist causes ranging from the objectification and control of women’s bodies to food politics, domestic labor, the service industry, and colonial appropriations.