Martha Rosler

American (Brooklyn, New York, 1943)

The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems

1974-1975
installation | gelatin silver prints on board
Not on view at this time; find out where you can see works from our collection at locations around the Bay Area while our building is closed for expansion
  • The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems

    Martha Rosler, The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems, 1974-1975; gelatin silver prints on board, 10 in. x 22 in. (25.4 cm x 55.88 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Jean and Jim Douglas, Doris and Donald Fisher, Evelyn Haas, and Pam and Dick Kramlich; © Martha Rosler


Rosler juxtaposes a sequence of black-and-white photographs taken in the Bowery, a Manhattan skid-row neighborhood, with words and phrases used to describe alcoholics, drunkenness, and alcoholism. She deliberately avoids depicting any of the human victims her work alludes to, either by photographing them or offering first-person testimony.

Instead, her work operates in a cool, even ironic manner. Her straightforward pictures suggest the hopelessness of a neighborhood stuck in an economic dead end, while the accompanying catalogue of alcoholism-related language is elaborate, excessive, and even darkly humorous at times.

In the end, the overriding mood is anything but upbeat. Rosler's careful pairing of word and image implies that something here is desperately wrong, but she leaves viewers to decide for themselves exactly what the meaning conveyed by these two "inadequate descriptive systems" might be.


10 in. x 22 in. (25.4 cm x 55.88 cm)
Acquired 1995
Collection SFMOMA
Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Jean and Jim Douglas, Doris and Donald Fisher, Evelyn Haas, and Pam and Dick Kramlich
© Martha Rosler
95.117.A-X

Tags

New York, neighborhoods, storefronts, buildings, exteriors, text, trash, debris, refuse, economy, alcoholism


From June 3, 2013, through early 2016, SFMOMA's building on Third Street in San Francisco will be temporarily closed for expansion construction. Selected artworks in our collection are included in a range of off-site exhibitions during this period. We regret that the remainder of the collection will not be available for study during this time.

In the meantime, we invite you to explore a wide selection of our collection online. Please note that the information presented online is subject to revision. Please contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to verify artwork details.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.