press release

“It is easy to state that a work of art is a commodity. It is much more difficult to determine which commodities are works of art – Boris Groys, Philosopher and Art theoretician

For her first London solo exhibition, the highly influential and respected American artist Martha Rosler will bring her seminal work Garage Sale to the ICA, in a version organised especially for the venue. This now iconic installation and performance piece originally took place in 1973 in the art gallery of the University of California, San Diego. Advertised as a garage sale in local newspapers but also as an art event within the arts community, this work took the form of an authentic household jumble sale where second-hand goods - clothes, books, records, toys, costume jewellery and personal letters and mementos - were displayed on racks and tables and sold off over the duration of the ‘exhibition’. This was also one of the first works in which Rosler herself featured: she adopted the persona of a cash-strapped Southern Californian single mother, adding a narrative dimension to the already complex multiplicity of the piece. As in the Garage sales that were the mode l for this work, artist and visitors engaged in personal transactions embedded in the cash nexus.

From the early 1970’s Rosler has utilised the apparatus of vernacular culture and the minutiae of daily experience to investigate and comment on contemporary society. Shopping, cooking, cleaning and even the daily commute have all been objects of her attention. In an artistic practice that encompasses performance, installation, video, photography and critical writing Rosler takes on such global issues as modes of transport, housing and homelessness, war, and the role of visual appearance in the subjugation of women – all themes as pertinent today as they were at the start of her career.

Garage Sale, with its reference to the status of the art work, art history and art audiences, is clearly interested in examining art as a fetishised object and commodity and offering an institutional critique; but it is as well a representation of a subjective history and a way of thinking and it works as a potent metaphor for personal and social relations - especially given its genesis within the highly politicised context of the women’s movement in the 70’s. Through her examination of domesticity, suburbia and family and the circulation of domestic material objects, Rosler evokes a powerful feminist discourse, which gives clear expression to the anthem of personal as political. The arena of domestic experience becomes here the focus for a charged artistic, social and cultural exploration, but there is a dry humour in the way that this ‘art’ can be rummaged in, discarded, fought over or treated with a delightful insouciance not usually found in the traditional muse um/gallery context.

Over the past 30 years, Rosler’s Garage Sale has traveled extensively – from the artist-run La Mamelle Gallery, San Francisco (1977) to more recent presentations at the Generali Foundation, Vienna (1999), the New Museum, New York (as part of Rosler’s travelling retrospective in 2000) and the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, Ireland (2004). Although the work accretes elements from each venue, London Garage Sale will be specifically adapted for the ICA to reflect the particularities of London and create a local narrative for its present reality.

Martha Rosler was born in Brooklyn, New York where she is still living today. Since graduating with a Masters in Fine Art from the University of California in 1974, Rosler has exhibited widely. Her recent solo exhibitions include shows at the Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany (2005); Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2002), Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland (2000); New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, USA (2000); Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria (2000); and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (1998). London Garage Sale at the ICA will be Rosler’s first London solo exhibition since presenting her video works at the ICA in 1983 and 1979.

Martha Rosler Film Programme: To accompany Martha Rosler’s London Garage Sale, three one hour programmes of the artist’s films as well as five Super-8 Shorts will be presented in the Upper Galleries at the ICA.


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Martha Rosler: London Garage Sale