The ‘Monumental Garage Sale‘ was a multimedia installation and performance by Martha Rosler held in the Art Gallery of the University of California, San Diego in 1973 and repeated later as the ‘Travelling Garage Sale‘ in the garage of La Mamelle, an artist run gallery in San Francisco in 1977. It was staged as both a real sale and as an ‘exemplary work’ with the artist adopting the role of the vendor – a Southern Californian woman and a mother, with roots in the counterculture – selling personal items and occasionally bargaining and chatting with visitors.
This work was reinstituted by the artist in Project’s Gallery, and ran for a four week period during June and July, with elements from previous versions being incorporated into the installation. Visitors to the gallery where able to participate in the work by purchasing items from the sale as well as by donating items themselves, with all proceeds going to charity. The work has a range of political and philosophical implications relating to the function of objects, including items deemed ‘art’ within social processes, their use value, their commodification and their transition between public and private realms. Operating on a number of levels, including the theatrical and the psychoanalytic, it suggests a method by which an artwork can address the complexity of the political sphere while maintaining its own multiplicity.
In its reconstituted form, the garage sale generates a number of new interpretations in addition to its status as a historical work. Its position in the gallery at Project links it to a genre of contemporary practice (politically active, low-tech, installation based), which it has no doubt influenced; while its proximity to Project’s theatre draws out the work’s performative character. In the sale, the individual as a social actor is caught and in part constituted by the economic acts that she performs. As a metaphor for the hegemony of the economic over all other relations, the work opens up a productive train of thought within the context of a city that is currently adapting to a runaway consumer culture.
Born in New York, Martha Rosler has been making and writing about art since the 1960s, embracing a wide range of fields including art history, architecture and urbanism, women’s studies, sociology, cultural studies, theatre, and video. Rosler is a pioneer in exploring these cultural phenomena and was among the first artists to challenge the myth of photographic realism. She has helped expand the definitions of art by combining an incisive critique of value systems with an accessible narrative style. In this her work has become an important touchstone for succeeding generations of artists.
Accompanying the exhibition there was a one-day seminar that will address the question of how political responsibility can translate into art practice. This seminar included a presentation by Martha Rosler in the morning, followed by a public forum in the afternoon. The public forum was built both on a consideration of the ‘Monumental Garage Sale,’ as well as on a series of discussions organised by ‘The Metropolitan Complex‘ over the previous two months. These discussions have taken place with various practitioners in Dublin and have examined some of the terms used to talk about art with a political content.
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