Martha Rosler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York New York Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Phillips
  • 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 pornographic magazines to examine the intricacies of a culture dominated by media and advertisements. 


    In Small Wonder, 1966–1972, Rosler uses a lingerie advertisement as a backdrop, overlaying cutouts of breasts and lips taken from a pornographic magazine on the model’s body. By revealing the body parts the lingerie is designed to cover, she undermines the anticipatory voyeuristic tension manufactured by the sexualized portrayals of women that dominated female representation in media. Rosler illuminates the reliance on sexual objectification within the advertisement sphere, challenging the commodification of women’s bodies.


    Small Wonder also confronts the rigid beauty standards imposed on women at the time of the work’s creation – a concept that remains regrettably salient today. 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.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.


    Rene Magritte, Philosophy in The Boudoir, 1947, Thomas Claburn Jones Collection. Image: Photo © Fine Art Images / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2023 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    The composition of Small Wonder recalls three works, all titled Philosophy in the Boudoir, 1947, 1948 and 1962, in reference to a 1795 book by French writer, Marquis de Sade, in which Rene Magritte depicts women’s sleeping garments hanging in closets with exposed breasts seemingly incorporated into them. Often considered emblematic of the wit and brash humor that permeated Magritte’s catalogue, the works can also be studied as prominent examples of the artist’s complex visual metaphors.


    In his exploration of Magritte’s embrace of philosophy and literature, Ben Stoltfuz points to the artist’s own writings to distill the intricacies of his artistic language. Citing a passage from Magritte’s Éscrits complets, Stoltfuz explains “Magritte insisted that it was impossible to paint abstractions such as freedom. You can only paint the visible, he said, that is, objects and images. But you can convey ideas by painting objects in relation to each other."iii 


    Much like Magritte, Rosler’s collages convey meaning through the juxtaposition of images. Rosler asks viewers to reference their own preconceptions regarding the imagery she employs, encouraging them to consider the dynamic between elements of her compositions rather than focus solely on aesthetic qualities. The semiotic nature of Rosler’s work allows for concise visual manifestations of certain facets of abstract social issues such as financial inequality, imperialism and, as in the present lot, gender roles.


    Rosler sees collage as 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. 



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



    i Martha 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 Ben Stoltfuz, Magritte's dialectical affinities: Hegel Sade, and Goethe," Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 43, no. 2, Summer 2013, online.

    iv Martha Rosler, quoted in James Eischen, "Martha Rosler," BOMB Magazine, September 23, 2012, online.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

    • 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, p. 507 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      New York, Armand Bartos Fine Art, Knock Knock: Who's There? That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, February 24–April 9, 2010 (another example exhibited)
      Antwerp, Galerie Christian Nagel, Martha Rosler, September 9–October 17, 2010
      Portland, OR, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Body Gesture, November 22, 2011–January 28, 2012 (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)
      Kunstmuseum Schloss Derneberg, Hall Art Foundation, Für Barbara, July 2017–October 2018 (another example exhibited)
      New York, The Jewish Museum, Martha Rosler: Irrespective, November 2, 2018–March 3, 2019, p. 64 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      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

      Allan DeSouza, "Is This Not A..?," X-TRA, vol. 9, no. 4, Summer 2007, online
      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)
      Saisha Grayson, "Agitprop!: A Conversation with Martha Rosler, Nancy Buchanan, and Andrea Bowers," e-flux Journal, no. 71, 2016, online (another example illustrated)
      William J. Simmons, "Portfolio by Martha Rosler," Bomb, April 22, 2016, online (another example illustrated)


Small Wonder from the series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain

photomontage printed as chromogenic print, flush-mounted to acrylic
23 1/2 x 17 1/4 in. (59.7 x 43.8 cm)
Executed in 1966–1972, this work is number 2 from an edition of 10 plus 2 artist's proofs.

Full Cataloguing

$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $48,260

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