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  • Author or Editor: Larne Abse Gogarty x
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Usable Pasts addresses projects dating to two periods in the United States that saw increased financial support from the state for socially engaged culture. By analysing artworks dating to the 1990s by Suzanne Lacy, Rick Lowe and Martha Rosler in relation to experimental theatre, modern dance, and photography produced within the leftist Cultural Front of the 1930s, this book unpicks the mythic and material afterlives of the New Deal in American cultural politics in order to write a new history of social practice art in the United States. From teenage mothers organising exhibitions that challenged welfare reform, to communist dance troupes choreographing their struggles as domestic workers, Usable Pasts addresses the aesthetics and politics of these attempts to transform society through art in relation to questions of state formation.

Steve Edwards’s book, Martha Rosler: The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems, is a close study of Rosler’s 1976 artwork. The book takes up the social and political coordinates of the work’s production, focusing on the San Diego Group of which Rosler was a member, New York City during the fiscal crisis, and the broader contribution Rosler makes to what Edwards calls ‘second-wave political modernism’. This review considers Edwards’s analyses of the work, and locates its importance within the discussion around Rosler, as well as the broader history of radical American art.

In: Historical Materialism