Monumental Garage Sale
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Art Gallery of the University of California, San Diego, CA, 1973

In 1973, Martha Rosler held her first Garage Sale at the Art Gallery of the University of California, called the Monumental Garage Sale. Clothing, books, toys, and household items were sold alongside personal items such as the artist’s private letters; her son’s baby shoes; and, more unconventionally, used diaphragms.

Casting the suburban garage sale as “an art form of contemporary society,” Rosler arbitrated the sale, while adopting the persona of a South California woman in a “hippie” costume. The sale was accompanied by an audio recording in the voice of this character, played on a machine in plain sight, pondering how the garage sale evokes systems of value and quoting Marx on commodity fetishism.

Interrogating not only the economics of the garage sale but also those of the art market, Rosler located these issues within the gallery space, directing them toward questions of value and ownership in relation to art production. Even where the objects for sale were not the personal property of the artist, they became pieces of her installation and appendages of her persona. The portrait of the artist became re-framed as the arrangement of her personal things, “a metaphoric representation of the mind,” exposing “the dubious proposition that one is what one appears to own.”

Engaging generations of visitors in this exchange, Rosler has re-staged the sale, under various titles, at museums and even at an art fair since its original incarnation. Here, “commerce always remains in the present,” where the traveling garage sale reveals “a society in which social relations embody commodity relations.” As the installation has been transformed by new goods, the objects have become less personal, while the expectations of the museum-goer have become progressively oriented toward the experiential.

In its latest iteration, the garage sale, this time entitled Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, was held in the atrium of MoMA in 2012.


1973__Monumental Garage Sale. University of California, San Diego
1977__Traveling Garage Sale. La Mamelle Gallery garage, San Francisco
1999__Traveling Garage Sale. Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne
1999__Traveling Garage Sale. Generali Foundation, Vienna
1999__Traveling Garage Sale. Rotterdam
2000__Monumental Garage Sale. New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
2004__Monumental Garage Sale. Project Arts Centre, Dublin
2005__London Garage Sale. Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
2010__Fair Trade Garage Sale. Museum of Cultural History.
______As part of the Art Parcours project of the Basel Art Fair
2010__Meta-Monumental Garage Sale. Museum of Modern Art, New York

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