Adopting its title from Ed Koch’s response to complaints regarding New York’s rising housing concerns, Martha Rosler’s current Mitchell-Innes & Nash exhibition If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, mo-o-ove!! promises a compact look at the artist’s influential 1989 exhibition If You Lived Here…, which was exhibited at Dia Foundation as a three part show. Similarly, this current interpretation is a trilogy, culminating in this grand finale at the Chelsea gallery and proving the relevance of issues raised almost thirty years ago in the original version.
The previous two iterations of the show, entitled Home Front, and Homeless: The Street and Other Venues, were exhibited at The New Foundation in Seattle, and reflected on rapidly escalating issues of gentrification and homelessness. The final installment focuses on urbanism and development, while also weighing in on arguments raised in prior installments, illustrating an extensive panorama of the ongoing housing problems in New York and its surrounding areas.
Organized by The Temporary Office of Urban Disturbances—a vaguely-defined collective of scholars, artists, activists and educators who participated in the project alongside Rosler—the exhibition expands across the gallery walls to demonstrate as many facets of the problem at hand, often obscuring the white cube they hang in. Flyers, posters, paintings, TV monitors, archival ephemera, as well as photographic and video documentation claim the majority of the exhibition, yet one also encounters another form of visual material corresponding to the city’s snowballing housing problem on each corner. From catchy slogans reading NOT MOVING, AFFORDABLE FOR WHOM? or HOUSE KEYS NOT HANDCUFFS, to effective graphics demonstrating the impact of declining living conditions, the show’s arrangement absorbs its audience into a visual social experiment of sorts.
While rising rents, long-gone businesses and challenging living costs dominate daily conversations amongst New Yorkers, little progress is achieved to solve such issues on a practical level. Facing severe obstacles such as evacuation and growing costs, many New Yorkers seek drastic solutions that often times involve moving out to smaller and more affordable cities, leaving the city to those who can “afford” being here.
Provoking its audience through an ambitious flux of information, the exhibition departs from offering a traditional gallery experience, typical for Rosler’s work. The artist, who most recently held a garage sale in the atrium of MoMA, has long used the gallery as a site of social exchange and information transfer, and here turns that practice of institutional critique outwards towards the real estate conditions that often undergird the art world and its network of galleries and collectors. Other artists and economic figureheads often cross paths with the artist’s own work, combining impressions and representations of the issue at hand to create a cluttered, democratic examination of the New York housing market.
Among this visual abundance are some striking highlights, such as Andrew Castrucci’s painting of Donald Trump from 1986, Mel Rosenthal’s photographs of the 70s’ South Bronx, and The Brooklyn Laundry Social Club’s participatory Bed-Stuy Mapping Game that invites people to map their versions of the neighborhood.
Martha Rosler: If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, mo-o-ove!! is on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash through July 9th, 2016.