Encounter with Martha Rosler

In conversation with Jorge Ribalta

February 11, 2015 - 7:00 p.m.
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200
In collaboration with

This encounter brings together Martha Rosler (New York, 1943) and the historian and theorist of photography Jorge Ribalta. The activity signals the start of the exhibition Not Yet. On the Reinvention of Documentary and the Critique of Modernity and looks to debate some of the question marks it raises. In what way does the documentary image continue at the centre of a revisionist and vindicatory project that broadens photographic culture in an institutional setting under transformation? What are the limits and points of contact between the Neo-avant-garde and the photographic document?

Martha Rosler is an artist who is highly accomplished at expressing these issues; her work, which began in the mid 1960s, encompasses a critique of the construction of class and gender identity in the media, the conception of the public sphere as an ongoing debate about governance and its exclusions, and an awareness of the fragile and precarious role of the artist in the global art system. Her reflections cross over into an analysis of the political climate, for instance in the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-1972) on the numb reception of the Vietnam War with nascent feminist theory, or in acclaimed works such as the video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and the photographs in Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain (1966-1972), whilst also examining the validity of historical legacy in avant-garde movements or the possibilities of the museum as a democratic space.

The encounter sets out from an analysis of documentary practice found between the tradition of direct photography and the language of conceptual art – while also distant from both – represented in The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974-1975), before reaching the exhibition If You Lived Here… (Dia Art Foundation, 1989), a collective project on the city and housing that brought the exhibition medium into crisis.


Jorge Ribalta. Historian, artist and theorist of photography. He is the curator of the exhibition Not Yet. On the Reinvention of Documentary and the Critique of Modernism (Museo Reina Sofía 11 February–13 July, 2015) and has recently curated I Work the Street. Joan Colom, Photographs 1957–2010 (MNAC, 2013-2014), Centre Internacional de Fotografía Barcelona (1978–1983) (MACBA, 2012) and A Hard, Merciless Light. The Worker Photography Movement, 1926–1939 (Museo Reina Sofía, 2011).

Martha Rosler. Artist and essayist. She has exhibited in numerous museums and art centres around the world, for example MoMA, the International Center of Photography and the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), the Generali Foundation (Vienna) and the Ikon Gallery (Birmingham), and has worked as a lecturer at Rutgers University, New York, and the Städelschul, in Frankfurt. She has published the books Rites of Passage (1995), Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Essays, 1975-2001 (2004) and Imágenes públicas. La función política de la imagen (2007).