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Issue 198

Questionnaire: Martha Rosler

Q: What do you like the look of? A: ‘Looks aren't everything.’

BY Martha Rosler in Interviews , Questionnaires | 20 SEP 18

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

Prints of engravings from photos of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and an old poster from the San Francisco Mime Troupe. A black and white photo by Dona Ann McAdams, and another of Eleanor and David Antin on their wedding day.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

A drawing of Marley’s ghost from an illustrated version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843). I was four or five when I first saw it, and it haunted me for years. Like the gaze of the Medusa, but male.


If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?

I am a serial monogamist so, every now and then, I’d have to change whatever caught my fancy. At this moment, I’d choose Cecelia Condit’s film Possibly in Michigan (1983) or Max Almy’s video Leaving the 20th Century (1982).


What is your favourite title of an artwork?

Can I say Untitled? It leaves the door open to everything.

What do you wish you knew?



What should change?

Ownership and distribution of resources.


What should stay the same?

The ongoing human effort to build affiliations and inclusive communities.


What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?



What music are you listening to?

As it happens, a sea shanty. But the last time I looked at this questionnaire, I was listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Musical Offering (1747).


What are you reading?

Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power (1985).

What is art for?

First of all, for the simultaneous complication and condensation of the burning questions we ask or should be asking. Second, for a sensory or cognitive jolt.

Main image: Fred Barnard, Marley's Ghost, 1878. Courtesy: Alamy

Martha Rosler is an artist based in New York, USA. A retrospective of her work will be on view at the Jewish Museum, New York, from 2 November to 3 March 2019.