The Martha Rosler Library opens in Liverpool

The Martha Rosler Library opens in Liverpool

Venue: Site Gallery at 68 Hope St (JMU School of Art)

2008 European Capital of Culture first UK venue for international touring exhibition
(Private View: 6pm, 11 April 2008; Opens to the public: 12 April – 14 June 2008)

Established in 2005, this unique collection of around 7,700 books first opened as a storefront reading room for the New York-based arts project e-flux.

Since then, it has travelled across Europe, opening in the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany, in Antwerp’s Muhka (Museum of Contemporary Art), the United Nations Plaza School in Berlin, and the Institut National de L’Histoire de L’Art in Paris.

The first UK exhibition of the Martha Rosler Library has been organised in collaboration with e-flux by Liverpool John Moores University’s Site Gallery in collaboration with the Liverpool Biennial.


The Library will remain on view in Liverpool until 14 June when it will move to Edinburgh, opening to the public in August 2008.

John Byrne, manager and curator of LJMU’s Site Project, said:
“Liverpool John Moores University is a supporter of contemporary art and as such is extremely pleased to secure this outstanding exhibition. We are currently in the final stages of developing our new Art and Design Academy and this show exemplifies the ambitions of the University and Liverpool Biennial to help make Liverpool a true capital of the arts.”

Brooklyn-based Martha Rosler is one of America’s most important living artists. The Library is as eclectic as her art is varied – she works in video, sculpture, photo-text, installation, and performance. Rosler’s work is centred on everyday life and the public sphere, often with an eye to women’s experience. Recurrent concerns are the media and war as well as architecture and the built environment, from housing and homelessness to systems of transport. Rosler also writes on aspects of culture and is a respected teacher.

The Library’s titles range from political theory, art history and poetry to science fiction, mystery and children’s books; there are also periodicals, dictionaries, maps and travel books, as well as photo albums, posters, postcards and newspaper clippings. The contents are both a source of inspiration for Rosler’s work and an installation in their own right – with the live components being lectures, reading groups and discussions.

John Byrne continued:
“Unlike most libraries, the collection is uncensored and unedited, giving visitors a unique insight on the different factors that influence an artist’s work. But it’s much more than just Martha Rosler’s personal library; it also challenges you to think again about what constitutes an art exhibition and the role the written word plays in the visual arts. Usually exhibitions invite you to look but not touch. This Library invites you to do the opposite; to pick things up, to engage with the books and other materials on the shelves, to think for yourself rather than being instructed on what to look at and what to think.”

Martha Rosler will be reunited with her collection when she arrives in Liverpool on 10 April to oversee the final stages of installation. However, she is no stranger to the city, having taken part in the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. She will also take part in a public discussion in the Library on Saturday 12 April.

Paula Domela, Liverpool Biennial’s Programme Director, said:
“It’s great to welcome Martha Rosler back to Liverpool. As an artist she is concerned with making history visible, with looking beyond the surfaces of what she calls ‘the prepared world, the one already interpreted for us’. Her extensive body of work and contributions to contemporary art and social theory have profoundly influenced an entire generation of younger artists. The Martha Rosler Library will no doubt add to the debate on what constitutes art and contemporary artistic practice.”

The idea for the Library was borne both out of a lack of space – Rosler’s home was being overtaken by her collection of books – and as a riposte to more reverential artists’ libraries, such as that belonging to minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, who died in 1994.

While Judd’s library is effectively a ‘minimalist mausoleum’, with no-one allowed to touch or look at any of his books, in contrast the Martha Rosler Library is open to everyone; artists, students, curators, art historians, book lovers and other members of the general public. Browsing and reading is actively encouraged, with tables and chairs provided for reading groups and discussions as well as free photocopying facilities.

John Byrne continued:
“Rosler is not interested in seeing the Library is some kind of portrait of her as an artist. Instead she sees the Library as a way of helping people to make new relationships with her artistic practice. While you can’t buy or borrow the books, everything can be picked up, read, copied and discussed. Whereas a lot of art smacks of elitism, fetishes objects or elicits reverence – the Martha Rosler Library looks like a second-hand bookshop. This is deliberate as throughout her career, Rosler has tried to debunk pretentious art world tendencies while still producing work of outstanding cultural and critical value.”

Paul Domela added:
“This is a very personal collection and that is its strength. Over the next two months I hope that we will build up a community of people who will keep coming back to the Library to browse the shelves, read, listen, research or socialise but most of feast their minds.”

Martha Rosler and Anton Vidokle from e-flux will take part in a public discussion at Site starting at 1pm on Saturday 12 April at 68 Hope Street, Liverpool. Entrance is free and all are welcome. Further conversations will include Shepherd Steiner, Simon Sheikh Maria Hlavajova and Centre of Attention.