Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here...

February 11, 1989–June 17, 1989, 77 Wooster Street


Organized by Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here . . . responded to issues of urban housing, gentrification, and homelessness in terms of their interrelation with New York City’s political, financial, real-estate, and art systems. Over four months, Rosler devised three installations that took place at 77 Wooster Street and four public discussions staged as town meetings at 155 Mercer Street. If You Lived Here . . . continued the yearlong Town Meeting project sponsored by Dia Art Foundation.

This is the second half of a yearlong Town Meeting project sponsored by Dia Art Foundation. The first half of the project, Democracy, was organized by Group Material for fall 1988. The Town Meeting project is supported in part with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, Washington, DC, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

The past decade or so has seen a wholesale return of middle-class professionals to metropolitan centers in a process dubbed “gentrification.” The pincers of gentrification and abandonment have combined to displace the poor, mostly nonwhite residents to whom the inner city was left as a result of the “white flight” and suburbanization of the 1960s.

Urban cycles of decline, decay, and abandonment, followed by a “renaissance” or rehabilitation, renovation, and reconstruction, may appear to be natural processes. In fact, however, the “fall and rise of cities” are consequent not only on financial and productive cycles, and the fiscal crises of the State, but also on social policy. In New York the price exacted for relative fiscal stability has been a wholesale turnover of the city to banks and developers. One glaringly apparent consequence has been the spectacular decline of sizable areas, such as the South Bronx, Harlem, Lower Manhattan, and areas of Brooklyn and Queens preparatory to their deliverance into the hands of developers of upper-income housing, primarily in the form of condominiums, not rental units. Thus, while the “outer boroughs” suffer planned shrinkage the withdrawal of essential services, from fire protection to bank mortgages, Manhattan “Manhattanizes,” developing highly concentrated central zones of grandiose office towers and palatial hotels and residences. In New York privatization and decontrol of housing stock has slashed the proportion of renters and driven the number of homeless skyward.

Artists are often seen as a small but pivotal group in easing the return of the middle class to cities. Ironically, however, artists are often themselves displaced by the same wealthy professionals—their clientele—who follow them into these suddenly chic urban areas. If New York’s SoHo was the earliest, most visible of recent cases, its Lower East Side reveals how the process has been routinized and sped up. What about New York as an art center? The same forces driving the real-estate market—the search for investments that provide both safety and windfall profits, the urge to recreate the world according to the values of the money-mad business community—have affected art and artists’ lives and goals. Has New York slipped as a place to make art as Manhattan rents have soared beyond the reach of unmoneyed young artists and as artist-run centers have aged and declined? What about the new community-based galleries in the “outer boroughs,” New Jersey, and still-marginal areas of Manhattan?

These exhibitions and discussions are intended to suggest the interrelations between the city’s political, financial, real-estate, and art systems. But they also address issues of housing and homelessness directly. These are directed at representing, questioning, and perhaps intervening in the situation of artists and their relation to society—including the local and national conditions under which they live, produce, and exhibit work.


Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler was born in New York City in 1943, where she currently lives and works.

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Photo: Ethan Harrison

If You Lived Here . . . The City in Art, Theory, and Social Activism: A Project by Martha Rosler (Discussions in Contemporary Culture #6)

This book documents the crisis in American urban housing politics and portrays how artists within neighborhood organizations have fought against shortsighted housing politics and real estate speculation.

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