A woman of influence

WAG tours the new exhibition devoted to the influential artist Martha Rosler, now open at the Jewish Museum.

WAG was back down at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan this past week for a preview of “Martha Rosler: Irrespective.”

The exhibition, which continues through March 3, is billed as the “first New York survey exhibition in over 15 years devoted” to the American artist.

Here’s how the show was advanced, in part, in press materials:

“Considered one of the most important voices of her generation, Rosler weds a strong engagement with social and political issues with incisive critique, one which often focuses on mass cultural modes of representation. From her feminist photomontages of the 1960s and 1970s to her recent large-scale installations, Rosler’s vital work – including photography, sculpture, installation, and video – reflects an enduring and passionate vision.”

On display are both well-known and rarely seen works by the New York City native, from 1965 to the present.

Darsie Alexander, who was the executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art before joining the Jewish Museum in March as the Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator, said the following in press materials: “Martha Rosler’s direct, unvarnished take on current social and political circumstances is rooted in her belief in the capacity of art to teach, provoke, and ultimately motivate action in the people it reaches. The Jewish Museum is proud to present Rosler’s work in her first New York survey exhibition in over 15 years. We hope that visitors of all backgrounds will find inspiration, discover the humor, and identify the compassion that surrounds her work.”

And that work touches on topics ranging from feminism to poverty, consumerism to war, gentrification to much more.

“Martha Rosler: Irrespective” is organized by Alexander, with Shira Backer, Leon Levy Assistant Curator, the Jewish Museum, in close collaboration with the artist and her studio. The exhibition is designed by New Affiliates (Jaffer Kolb, Ivi Diamantopoulou).

WAG said a quick hello to Alexander before the formal remarks, having worked with her back in 2015 for our story on the Edward Larrabee Barnes exhibition at the KMA. 

She said she’s been enjoying her first months at the museum – despite the commute from her Westchester home, she added with a laugh – and was excited about this Rosler exhibition.

As Alexander said in her presentation, Rosler is, “an artist who’s always worked against the grain” – and we quickly realized we agree, as “Irrespective” is indeed filled with thought-provoking work that challenges the norm.

We were particularly captivated by “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” a 1975 black-and-white video that remains topical today, as does so much of Rosler’s work.

The text panel put it in perfect perspective:

“Adopting the familiar format of a television cooking show, ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’ opens with a woman in a kitchen, portrayed by the artist as a kind of anti-Julia Child. She begins to name pieces of kitchen equipment in alphabetical order, starting with the letter A. As she identifies each utensil, she mimes its use, replacing the cheerful ease with which food preparation is typically depicted with gestures of gradually intensifying, though suppressed rage, The rigid format of the demonstration riffs on the deadpan look of Conceptual art, while commenting sardonically on the notion that women ought to find personal fulfillment in the kitchen.”

Food for thought, as they say.

The Jewish Museum is at 1109 Fifth Ave. (at 92ndStreet).

For more, visit thejewishmuseum.org.

– Mary Shustack

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