For her first solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, Martha Rosler (Brooklyn, New York) presents her work Garage Sale in The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium from November 17 to 30, 2012. Rosler, through her artistic practice, teaching, and writing, is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of her generation. For more than 40 years, Rosler has made “art about the commonplace, art that illuminates social life,” examining the everyday through photography, performance, video, and installation.
Rosler held the Garage Sale’s first iteration, Monumental Garage Sale, in 1973 in the student gallery of the University of California, San Diego. She advertised this controversial work as a garage sale in local newspapers and as an art event within the local arts scene. Clothes, books, records, toys, costume jewelry, personal letters, art works, and other mementos, as well as soft-core pornographic magazines and empty welfare-food containers were displayed on racks and tables for visitors to browse and buy, after haggling with the artist over the price. Rosler’s Garage Sale implicates visitors in face-to-face transactions within a secondary, informal cash economy—exactly like garage sales held outside the museum setting.
In the San Diego Garage Sale, the following message was scrawled on a chalkboard: “Maybe the Garage Sale is a metaphor for the mind.” Rosler also bought a slide show from a local estate sale made up of snapshots from the quintessential suburban white American family, and it played continuously during her sale. An audio track played simultaneously, offering a meditation on the role of commodities in suburban life.
The newest iteration of this project, the Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, fills MoMA’s Marron Atrium with activity, turning it into a space for the exchange of goods, narratives, and ideas. As in the Garage Sale’s initial manifestation, Rosler performs on a daily basis throughout the Sale. Components from San Diego, including the slide show and the audio track, as well as select “merchandise” from several previous Garage Sales are also part of the installation, representing traces of where the project has been held. The artist’s photographs of visitors to some of those earlier sales are displayed alongside photographs of customers posing, with their new acquisitions, for a professional wedding photographer.
After the Monumental Garage Sale in San Diego, Rosler restaged the project in 1977 as the Traveling Garage Sale at the artist-run La Mamelle Gallery in San Francisco. More recently, however, Rosler’s Monumental Garage Sale has traveled extensively. In 1999–2000 it was included as part of a traveling retrospective at the Institute d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne-Lyon; the Generali Foundation, Vienna; Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona (MACBA); and the New Museum, New York. Rosler also restaged the piece in 2002 at Moderna Museet, Stockholm; in 2004 at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin; in 2005 at the Sprengel Museum, Hanover; and in the same year at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. In 2010, the project became the Fair Trade Garage Sale at Basel’s Museum of Cultural History for the Art Parcours during Art Basel.
Organized by Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator, and Ana Janevski, Associate Curator, with Jill A. Samuels, Performance Producer, Department of Media and Performance Art.