The conscientious objection of Peter Roehr's montages
North, Meredith E.
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The 1960s West German artist Peter Roehr was relatively unknown in the postwar currents of European and American art. His Frankfurt based practice of serial "montages"- arrangements of identical texts, objects, advertisement photographs, and films- were not well received in his lifetime. Roehr's work was often seen as derivative in relation to the overarching trends emerging from more established art cities like Düsseldorf and New York; particularly in movements like Group Zero and Nouveau Réalisme, Pop, and Minimalism. Only after his early death at the age of 24 in 1968 did the potentialities of his work begin to gain recognition. However, Roehr remains critically undervalued as an artist very much concerned with the social and political situation of Western Germany. Crucially, extensive research in Roehr's archive has revealed an artist very much attuned to the contemporary artistic and social sphere. Numerous catalog essays, available in English, discuss the system of Roehr's montages for their seriality and grid structures. But these sources delve into the broader spheres of cultural criticism the work poses. In this paper I have incorporated both primary and secondary sources on Roehr's montages. Using both philosophical and art historical methodologies, I have examined Roehr's montages as a furthering of social engagement, while at the same time seeming to eschew the viewer's subjectivity. Roehr's status as a conscientious objector, when thought of in artistic terms, offers a way of understanding his works as occupying a position of disengagement as an oppositional strategy. While this is merely one aspect of Roehr's life, it forms a through thread that connects many aspects of his montages, philosophy, and engagement through detachment.