Martha Rosler  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Martha Rosler is an artist. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives. She graduated from Brooklyn College (1965) and the University of California, San Diego (1974).

Rosler works in video, photo-text, installation, and performance, as well as writing about art and culture. Her work and writing have been widely influential. She has lectured extensively nationally and internationally and teaches art at Rutgers University and the Städelschule in Frankfurt.

She serves in an advisory capacity to the departments of education at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy (all New York City).

Rosler’s work is centered on everyday life and the public sphere, often with an eye to women's experience. Recurrent concerns are the media and war as well as architecture and the built environment, from housing and homelessness to systems of transport.

Her work has been seen in the Venice Biennale of 2003; the Liverpool Biennial and the Taipei Biennial (both 2004); as well as many major international survey shows, including the "documenta" exhibitions in Kassel, Germany, of 1982 and 2007, the SkulpturProjekte Münster 2007, and several Whitney Biennials. She has had numerous solo exhibitions. In 2006 her work was the subject of solo exhibitions at the University of Rennes and in 2007 at the Worcester Museum of Art. A retrospective of her work, “Positions in the Life World” (1998-2000) was shown in five European cities (Birmingham, England; Vienna; Lyon/Villeurbanne; Barcelona; and Rotterdam) and, concurrently, at the International Center of Photography and the New Museum of Contemporary Art (both in New York).

Her solo show, “London Garage Sale,” was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in June 2005, revisting a series of exhibitions she has held since 1973 that center on the American garage sale. E-flux sponsored "The Martha Rosler Library," in which, starting in November 2005, over 7,500 volumes from her private collection were made available as a public resource; the collection then traveled to the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany and to Antwerp's Muhka (Museum of Contemporary Art) in conjunction with NICC, an artist-run space; to UnitedNationsPlaza School in Berlin, and, in 2007 through early 2008, to the Institut National de L'Histoire de L'Art in Paris.



Among her most widely known works are the pioneering videotapes "Semiotics of the Kitchen" (1974/75), "Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained" (1977), "Losing: A Conversation with the Parents" (1977), and, with Paper Tiger Television, "Born to Be Sold: Martha Rosler Reads the Strange Case of Baby S/M" (1988). Her photo/text work "The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems" (1974/75) is considered a seminal work in conceptual and postmodern photographic practice. Also widely noted are her series of photomontages, "Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain" (1966-72), addressing the photographic representation of women and domesticity and "Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful," addressing the imagery of the Vietnam War (1967-72; reprised in relation to the War in Iraq in 2004).

Many of these works are concerned with the geopolitics of entitlements and dispossession. Her writing and photographic series on roads, the system of air transport, and urban undergrounds (subways or metros) join her other works addressing urban planning and architecture, from housing to homelessness. In 1989, in lieu of a solo exhibition at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, Rosler organized the project "If You Lived Here...", in which over 50 artists, film- and video producers, photographers, architects, planners, homeless people, squatters, activist groups, and schoolchildren addressed contested living situations, architecture, planning and utopian visions.

At the Utopia Station show at the Venice Biennale of 2003, she worked with about 30 of her students from Stockholm and Copenhagen, as well as a small, far-flung internet group, 'the Fleas', to produce banners and a mini-pavilion exploring utopian schemes and communities and their political and social ramifications. She has done two tours of historical sites, one in Hamburg (1993) and one in Liverpool (2004), in conjunction with curated art projects. At the Frieze Art Fair (London) of 2005, she conducted a tour of this temporary site from its siting and construction to all aspects of its customer service, maintenance, and security.

About eight thousand books from her personal library have been circulating as Martha Rosler Library in the United States and Europe under the auspices of e-flux, a small organization that has organized a handful of traveling projects that often reside outside the common institutional frames of the art world. This project, a reading room rather than a library, settles down in various cities (including New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Antwerp, and Paris) for various periods, in venues in and around art institutions, schools, and libraries. Visitors can sit and read or make free photocopies. Other projects, such as reading groups, have often been organized locally in conjunction with this project.

Published Works

Martha Rosler's essays have been published widely in catalogs, magazines, such as Artforum, Afterimage, Quaderns, and Grey Room, and edited collections, among them: Women Artists at the Millennium (October Books/MIT, 2006). She has produced numerous other "Word Works" and photo/text publications; now exploring cookery in a mock dialogue between Julia Child and Craig Claiborne, now analyzing imagery of women in Russia or exploring responses to repression, crisis, and war. Her essay "In, around, and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)" (1981 but widely cited, republished, and translated) has been credited with a great role in dismantling the myths of photographic disinterestedness and in generating a discussion about the importance of institutional and discursive framing in determining photographic meaning.

Rosler has published fifrteen books of photography, art, and writing. Among them are Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Essays 1975-2001 (MIT Press, 2004), the photo books Passionate Signals (Cantz, 2005), In the Place of the Public: Airport Series (Cantz, 1997), and Rights of Passage (NYFA, 1995). If You Lived Here (Free Press, 1991) discusses and supplements her Dia project on housing, homelessness, and urban life. Several books, in English and other languages, were published in 2006, including a 25-year edition of 3 Works (Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design ISBN 0-919616-46-1). The collection "Imágenes Públicas," Spanish translations of some essays and video scripts, was published in 2007.


Rosler was awarded the Spectrum International Prize in Photography for 2005. The prize was accompanied by a photo and video retrospective, “If Not Now, When?” at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover and NGBK in Berlin. The book Passionate Signals accompanied this exhibition. In 2006 she received the Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Austria's highest fine arts award. She received an Anonymous Was A Woman Award for 2007.


  • Elena Filipovic, “If YouReadHere… Martha Rosler’s Library.” Afterall no. 15 (Summer 2007)
  • Richard Meyer, “Feminism Uncovered: On the Wack! Catalogue,” Artforum, Summer 2007. pp. 211-212, 548.
  • Heather Diack, “Too Close to Home: Rethinking Representation in Martha Rosler’s Photomontages of War,” Prefix Photo (Toronto), Vol. 7, no. 2 (Nov. 2006). Pp. 56-69.
  • Jean-Marc Huitorel, “Martha Rosler, Sur/Sous le Pavé.” ArtPress, July/August 2006.
  • Beatrice von Bismarck, “Freedom I Have None: Martha Rosler in der Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin.” Texte zur Kunst, #62, June 2006.
  • Raimar Stange, “Martha Rosler: Von der notwendigke it (zitierne) der Kunst/ The Need and Necessity for Quotes and Quoting in Art,” Spike, Winter 2005
  • Holland Cotter, ‘If It's Too Bad to Be True, It Could Be Disinformation,” New York Times, Art in Review section, Nov. 11 2005
  • Frances Richard, “Martha Rosler,” Artforum, Feb 2005, p. 173
  • Linda Nochlin, “Less Than More,” Artforum, Vol. 62, No.1 (September 2003), p. 178 ff. On Utopia Station, at the Venice Biennale
  • Jens Hoffmann, “The Familiar Is Not Necessarily the Known,” NU: The Nordic Art Review (Stockholm), Vol. III, No. 2, 2001, pp. 58-63
  • Martina Pachmanová, “Umeni bourat myty ve svete kolem nás i v nás.” Aspekt (Bratislava), 12/2000-1/2001, pp. 130-136

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