Martha Rosler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York New York Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Martha Rosler is one of the most impactful and important artists of her generation. Utilizing a wide range of media, Rosler has constructed an oeuvre defined by an unwavering devotion to challenging social inequalities inherent to modern life. She first garnered attention with a series of photomontages started in 1966, retroactively titled Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, in which she repurposed cutouts from Playboy magazines to explore the intricacies of a culture dominated by media and advertisements.


    Hothouse, or Harem (After Ingres), 1966–1972, with its cascading composition of nude Playboy models layered on top of one another is a prominent example of Rosler’s socially biting photomontages. The images of the models, all taken from issues of Playboy, are completely removed from their original contexts. Without luxury furniture and expansive vistas grounding them to a specific space, the floating nude images seem absurd and invasive. The absence of surroundings forges a stark sense of liminality within the work that in turn brings the overt sexualization of the female body in media to the forefront.


    The similarities between the women in the present lot illuminates the rigid beauty standards of the day. Rosler uses her personal experience as an example of how stereotypical media portrayals can create restrictive social pressure through constructed internalization, noting that “growing up as a tomboy,” she was oblivious to the societal expectations of gender roles.i However, when she reached late adolescence, she realized that these barriers were “completely translated into these infantilizing images of women in advertising."ii The causal relationship between depictions of women in media and the upholding of gender roles is a driving force in Rosler’s extensive catalogue.


     Hothouse, or Harem served as the cover image of the exhibition catalogue for WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution, a 2007 exhibition that began at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and represented the first major retrospective exhibition focusing on feminist art. The decision to feature a work entirely composed of nude Playboy models immediately ignited controversy. Some viewed the cover as offensive, considering it to be emblematic of the misogynistic objectification that the show was intended to confront, while others saw it as a social commentary loaded with irony. In either sense, the exhibition catalogue generated an abundance of discussions about feminism in art, which as the MOCA director of publication, Lisa Gabrielle Mark notes, was the intent behind the use of Hothouse.iii 


    “Scrutinizing representation in the media required exploitation of mediums through which social images were disseminated. ”
    —Martha Rosler


    Rosler considers collage to be an inherently critical medium: “It’s basically media critique. And the dislocation affects not only the visual content of the images but their spatial and temporal character as well, making the critique substantive.”iv By removing images from their original contexts, Rosler is able to subvert their accepted social meanings, refracting them through a feminist lens.


    The subtitle of the lot references Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ work, La Grande Odalisque, 1814. Routinely subject to criticism and analysis since it was shown at the Paris Salon in its year of creation, La Grande Odalisque is a depiction of a nude concubine. Like many female nudes painted before, the pose of the figure in the work is derived from the archetype of the reclining Venus. However, unlike previous female nudes which often extended their inspiration from depictions of the goddess to include thematic references to the divine, Ingres’ Odalisque was uncompromisingly human. Commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, Caroline Murat, the work is seen by some as a celebration of female sexuality while others consider it a blatantly brash attempt to appease the male gaze. Regardless, the work, much like Rosler’s Hothouse, has catalyzed a plethora of conversations about femininity in art.


    Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814, Louvre, Paris. Image: © Photo Josse / Bridgeman Images



    Please find more about Martha Rosler in this article by our editorial team.



     iMartha Rosler, quoted in Stephanie Murg, "Interview With Martha Rosler, The Artist Who Speaks Softly But Carries a Big Shtick" PIN-UP Magazine, no. 25, Fall/Winter 2018/2019, online

    ii Ibid.

    iii Lisa Gabrielle Mark, quoted in Richard Meyer, "Feminism Uncovered," Artforum, vol. 45, no. 10, online.

    iv Martha Rosler, quoted in Lyle Rexer, "Interview: Martha Rosler," photograph, January 4, 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Washington, D.C., National Museum of Women in the Arts; New York, MoMA PS.1; Vancouver Art Gallery, WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution, March 4, 2007–January 18, 2009, pp. 158-159, 507 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 158-159; illustrated on the front cover)
      Kassel, Fridericianum, documenta 12, June 16–September 23, 2007 (another example exhibited)
      Boston, Tisch and Koppelman Galleries and Remis Sculpture Court, Tufts University Art Galleries, Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968, January 27–April 3, 2011 (another example exhibited)
      Warsaw, Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art, A Guide for the Lost: How to Succeed in the New Poland, February 14–May 25, 2014 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, martha rosler: changing the subject... in the company of others, December 8, 2022–January 21, 2023 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Richard Meyer, "The "WACK!" Catalogue," Artforum, vol. 45, no. 10, Summer 2007, pp. 211-212
      Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958–1968, exh. cat., Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 2010, pp. 78, 82
      Karen Moss, "Martha Rosler's Photomontages and Garage Sales: Private and Public, Discursive and Dialogical," Feminist Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, 2013, pp. 691, 700 (another example illustrated, p. 700)
      "Best in Show: 2006–10," Frieze, August 30, 2016, online (another example illustrated)
      Martha Rosler: Irrespective, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 2018, pp. 62–63, 65 (another example illustrated)
      Lucy McKeon, "The Cutting Cleverness of Martha Rosler's Collages," Aperture, January 13, 2023, online (another example illustrated)


Hothouse, or Harem from the series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain

photomontage printed as chromogenic print, flush-mounted to acrylic
19 1/2 x 48 in. (49.5 x 121.9 cm)
Executed in 1966–1972, this work is number 7 from an edition of 10 plus 2 artist's proofs.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for $20,320

Contact Specialist

Katerina Blackwood
Associate Specialist, Head of Online Sales, New York
20th Century & Contemporary Art
+1 212 940 1248

20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York

7 - 14 December 2023