Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Makes Acquires Iconic Works by VALIE EXPORT, Sigmar Polke, and Martha Rosler

The Museum of Modern Art has acquired key series of works in a variety of mediums by Martha Rosler and VALIE EXPORT, two of the post-war generation’s most influential artists, including all existing original photomontages and a complete set of 20 color prints of Rosler’s landmark series Bringing the War Home (1967-72), and a group of EXPORT’s media installations and iconic photographs from the 1960s and 1970s. Also recently acquired is an exceptional collection of 42 unique photographs from the 1960s and 1970s by Sigmar Polke.

Valie Export, (Waltraud Höllinger) (Austrian, born 1940). Encirclement from the series Body Configurations. 1976. Gelatin silver print with red ink, 14 x 23 7/16″ (35.5 x 59.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase © 2012 VALIE EXPORT / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VBK, Austria.

Working over the last four decades across a range of mediums, Rosler (American, b. 1943) and EXPORT (Austrian, b. Waltraud Höllinger, 1940) have been pioneering performance in connection with the use of film and video technology in the arts, both employing photography and photo collage as well as writing and even curatorial projects to address feminist and other current socio-political issues to which their work has been dedicated.

“VALIE EXPORT and Martha Rosler have created groundbreaking works that examine how body and identity—especially with regard to women—are constructed through society and determined by mass media and technology,” states Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA. “The works acquired from EXPORT are essential to her ‘Feminist Actionism’ and ‘Expanded Cinema’-series. Rosler’s early photomontages of the groundbreaking series Bringing the War Home are reminders of how we experience a war through mass media.”

Rosler makes “art about the commonplace, art that illuminates social life”—as the artist likes to underline—and examines the everyday in her practice, employing photography, performance, video, and installation since the late 1960s, and focusing on issues of politics, class, and gender. For Bringing the War Home, made during the peak of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Rosler spliced together photographs of elegant homes from the pages of the magazine House Beautiful with grim, photojournalistic images of the war taken from Life magazine. Included in the exhibition WACK! Art and The Feminist Revolution at MoMA PS1 in 2008, in their jarring juxtapositions the collages show pristine home interiors “invaded” by wounded soldiers, refugees, and war-torn landscapes that match in color, scale, and perspective, creating scenes that read as coherent, authentic spaces. Iconic works in the history of twentieth century collage, Bringing the War Home has also inspired a younger generation of artists whose work is feminist and politically inscribed. Bringing the War Home was acquired with support from MoMA Chairman Emeritus Robert B. Menschel, The Modern Women’s Fund, the Committee on Photography Fund, and the Committee on Drawings Funds.

Rosler’s feminist photo-text work Know Your Servant Series, No. 1: North American Waitress, Coffee Shop Variety (1977) uses copy and images culled from magazines to create a multi-paneled photographic work illustrating the rules and protocols of good waitressing in North America. The work is a gift to MoMA from the Gallery Christian Nagel, as are a complete set of nearly two dozen of the artist’s video and film works dating from 1974 to 2011. Two media installations, She Sees in herself a New Woman Everyday (1974) and Global Taste: A Meal in Three Courses (1985) were also acquired with support from MoMA’s Committee on Media and Performance Art Fund.

VALIE EXPORT’s practice is rooted in performance, film and video experiments, expanded cinema, and photography, and encompasses drawing and sculpture. With these acquisitions, MoMA becomes one of the key holders in the United States of works by this highly influential feminist artist.

In 1967, EXPORT shed both her father’s and her husband’s names to take on a new identity as VALIE EXPORT. The Museum has acquired the artist’s most iconic work, VALIE EXPORT – SMART EXPORT (1967-1970), a picture of the artist posing in the style of the youth’s protest movement of the late 1960s while holding out a pack of the Austrian brand cigarettes Smart Export with her own face and logo mounted on it. It was acquired with support from The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation.

Four iconic photographs represent Identitätstransfers (Identity Transfers. 1968), for which the artist dressed in tight, black trousers, a curly, short-haired wig, heavy gold chain necklaces and bracelets, and exaggerated 1960s makeup. The resulting images are ambiguous in their representation of gender, and reflect a particular moment when male and female clothing and hair styles merged. The four photographs were acquired with support from The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation; Thomas L. Kempner, Jr., a member of MoMA’s Committee on Photography; the Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund; and the Committee on Photography Fund.

Also acquired is the photo collage Sehtext, Fingergedicht (Visual Text, Finger Poem) (1968/1973), showing EXPORT in a series of images using sign language to complete a quote derived from Martin Heidegger, in which the philosopher addresses the ontology of the image. The work was acquired with support from Thomas and Susan Dunn, members of MoMA’s Photography Council. This acquisition also includes Figuration Variation C (1972) and Einkreisung (Encirclement) (1976) from the series Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations), for which EXPORT used her and other women’s bodies as a measuring and pointing device to emphasize the dissension between the individual and the ideological forces that shape social reality. These two photographs were acquired with support from Charles Heilbronn, a member of MoMA’s Committee on Photography, and the Carl Jacobs Fund.
A rare portfolio from 1972 with the two groups of works Zyklus zur zivilisation (Cycle of Civilization) and Zur mythologie der zivilisatorischen Prozesse (On the Mythology of the Civilizing Processes) including EXPORT’S iconic Body Sig Action showing a garter tattooed on the artist’s thigh was acquired through The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation.

Although he worked in a variety of mediums over five decades of artistic practice, Sigmar Polke (German, 1941-2010) remains largely known as a painter, and his photographic practice is closely intertwined with his painterly work. The 42 photographs recently acquired form a virtual compendium of the themes that Polke pursued during his life: an exploration of perception in its many modalities; an ambivalent relationship to the banality of the objects of everyday life; the exuberance of psychedelic vision; an openness to transience and chance; and the depiction of energy as an electric current or as the development of light on a photosensitive surface. His experimentation with multiple exposures, reversed tonal values, blurring, and under- and over- exposures is richly visible in this body of work, the addition of which renders MoMA’s collection among the largest institutional holdings of his early photographic work. The collection was purchased with support from Edgar Wachenheim III and The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation. It was acquired from the estate of Carl Vogel, an important collector and long-time president of the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, where Polke lectured and taught.

“Hailed as a true innovator, Sigmar Polke experimented with darkroom techniques to a degree that was virtually unprecedented. Noteworthy is the hand-coloring on a number of pictures, which blurs the line between photography, drawing, and painting–divisions that Polke worked against in his practice,” notes Roxana Marcoci, Curator of Photography at MoMA. “This exceptional group of works by EXPORT, Polke, and Rosler, are indicative of acquisitions where distinctions between disciplines and their histories are porous and complex, and as such, curatorial collaborations greatly strengthen the Museum’s holdings of postwar and contemporary art.”

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