October 6, 2008

Why doesn't activist art reflect our complex reality?

In New York, Jerry Saltz suggests that activist artists like Martha Rosler should stop recycling the well-worn tropes from the 1960s, move beyond the simplistic polarities of earlier political art, and begin to address our complex, contemporary reality with deeper insight and more nuance. "In the late sixties, Martha Rosler became known for a so-so series of collages titled 'Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful.' She juxtaposed images of models, home d├ęcor, and the Vietnam War: A Vietnamese woman carried a bleeding baby in an unsullied American home, housewives dutifully cleaned battlefields, and so on....Four decades later, Rosler turns out not to have changed the look of her own work at all. In 'Great Power,' her current skin-deep effort at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Rosler tries to turn back the clock to her glory days, essentially remaking the Vietnam series.... Rosler’s show is simply mediocre. What it points to, however, is far worse and more widespread. Too many younger artists, critics, and curators are fetishizing the sixties, transforming the period into a deformed cult, a fantasy religion, a hip brand, and a crippling disease. A generation is caught in a Freudian death spiral and seems unable to escape the ridiculous idea that in order for art to be political it has to hark back to the talismanic hippie era—that it must create a revolution. It is sophistry to think that everything relates to Europe and America in 1968. The very paradigm of revolution, of right versus wrong, good versus bad, is a relic with no bearing on the present. Yet artists, exhibitions, and curators valorize the sixties. People who wrote about these artists 30 years ago still write about them in the same ways, often for the same magazines. Their students and imitators are doing the same—writing about artists, sometimes the same ones, in the same ways their teachers did. Often for the same magazines." Read more.

"Martha Rosler: Great Power," Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, NY. Through Oct. 11.

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