The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems

Martha Rosler, The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems, 1974-5, series of 45 gelatin silver prints of text and images on 24 backing boards, each backing board, 11 13/16 × 23 5/8 in / 30 × 60 cm
Courtesy the artist

The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems

Artist: Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler
The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems, 1974-1975
Series of 45 gelatin silver prints of text and images on 24 backing boards, each backing board, 30 × 60 cm
Courtesy the artist

Martha Rosler’s, “The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems” (1974-5) introduces the Museum’s approach to “neighborhood” and contextualizes artists’ significant engagement with the area. The work offers a poetic, humorous, even elegaic interrogation of the concept of the Bowery as urban blight. Refusing the style of documentary or journalistic portraiture often used to personify poverty through the degraded human subject, Rosler concentrates instead on the evidence of an absence: empty liquor bottles and assorted detritus that suggest alcohol infused vagrancy and mark the passage of time. Juxtaposing these images with lists of synonyms for drunkenness or drunks and the words “dead soldiers, dead marines,” the work amplifies the void of representation while alluding to the unknowable path traversed by the so-called “Bowery bum.”