When Inspiration Doesn’t Show Up

One of my favorite artists, Martha Rosler, had her first solo show at MoMA last week. I went Friday after work and was ready to be inspired after a hellish week. As I’ve blogged about before, I love Martha Rosler’s appropriation mash ups. I have posters of her work in my studio and backgrounds of her prints on my phone. But this show, with its rows of dingy, over-priced secondhand goods and unwelcoming staff left me feeling anxious, isolated and poor. And judging from the newspaper publication accompanying the show, that’s exactly the opposite of what she (I think?) had intended:

Garage sales are a natural gathering place for building community. They provide a temporary site for neighbors, friends, relatives, and strangers to congregate, swapping advice on canning tomatoes and passing along outgrown children’s clothes or never-used yogurt makers.

– Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler's Garage Sale

I could have watched this experience on the live stream from the comfort of my home but instead, I decided to woman-up and go to this Garage Sale in person seeking ART-spiration.

I found two paintings (a matching pair of kitschy landscapes) selling for $80. I haggled. Martha came over but didn’t say anything. I spoke with her assistant and the exhibition helpers (equipped with “I Can Help!” and “Ask Me!” pins) but they were reluctant to answer any questions. The rare opportunity for social interaction in a museum was lost. The connections to the Occupy Movement (a DIY setting, supportive of alternative economies, a bookstore, collaborative publication, livestream, and an understanding that things wouldn’t be stolen or walked away with, etc.) felt forced, mostly because it was in an institution, not on the street. The exhibition felt depressing and saddening for the wrong reasons. It felt like a Friday night, and everyone, including the artist, wanted to go home and watch TV. Maybe that was the point. That’s what I did.


One thought on “When Inspiration Doesn’t Show Up

  1. DL says:

    Hmmm… Isn’t it interesting that so often an artist’s intention will foster the binary opposite, or reverse interpretation, in the viewer?! Remixers, myself especially included, get tripped up in this thicket a lot. Re: Rosler, when ideas of “community” and “alternative economies” are framed within one of the largest institutions / art cathedrals (NYMoMA), it comes as no surprise that the space felt deeply disingenuous. It makes presents such ideas as representations, and for that reason perhaps comes across as a pedantic parody. Hypocritical. Were Rosler to take the performance idea further, as you suggest above, and bring the “work” into a neighborhood or street setting, I think it would have been more poignant. Trouble is, it becomes hard to then separate it from the real thing. (Does art need in some sense to be framed within the “representational”?). Always loved Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, because although they looked exactly like the real thing, there were in fact different, even though the difference wasn’t visual. I wonder how we might make a distinction of Rosler’s gesture (if it were to exist outside) as not only a “garage sale” but also as art, an aesthetic / philosophical event. Perhaps the fact that this exhibition raises these questions is enough for the time being. Perhaps I am just rambling, lol.

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