May 29, 2005 - Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) - Martha Rosler: London Garage Sale
May 29, 2005

Martha Rosler: London Garage Sale

Martha Rosler, Garage Sale, California, 1973, image courtesy of the artist 

Martha Rosler: London Garage Sale
4 June 2005 - 17 July 2005

Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
The Mall, London SW1
T 44 (0)20 7930 3647
F 44 (0)20 7306 0122
info [​at​]

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 model for this work, artist and visitors engaged in personal transactions embedded in the cash nexus.

From the early 1970s 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 womens movement in the 70s. 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 museum/gallery context.

Over the past 30 years, Roslers 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 Roslers 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 dArt Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (1998). London Garage Sale at the ICA will be Roslers first London solo exhibition since presenting her video works at the ICA in 1983 and 1979.

Martha Rosler Film Programme:
To accompany Martha Roslers London Garage Sale, three one hour programmes of the artists films as well as five Super-8 Shorts will be presented in the Upper Galleries at the ICA.
Programme 1:
Total running time: 57.59 mins
Start times: 12.30pm, 3.30pm
Losing: A Conversation With The Parents, 1977
18.39 min, colour, sound
A TV documentary/ soap opera style interview with the bereaved parents of an anorexic young woman who has starved herself to death, which focuses on food as a tool of oppression either internalized, self-induced ideals of beauty or the externalized, unavoidable suffering of war, famine and poverty.
Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained, 1977
39:20 min, colour, sound
Conceived as an opera in three acts, this film traces, through a sequence of images in which women are physically measured, how a womans identity is systematically constructed by an essentially bureaucratic and technological society. The institutionalized systems of measurements and classification that affect a womans sense of self are compared with the repressive regimes of the armed forces and even concentration camps.

Programme 2:
Total running time: 57.73 min
Start time: 1.30pm, 4.30pm
Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975
6.09 min, b&w, sound
In this parody of the cookery demonstration, Rosler in a role that is the antithesis of the perfect TV housewife, presents a series of kitchen utensils as tools for not domestic bliss but rather violence and aggression, their common safe meanings replaced with a language of rage and frustration.
The East Is Red, The West Is Bending, 1977
19:57 min, colour, sound
In this absurd performance-based work, Rosler demonstrates in her kitchen the West End electric wok, reading from this new must-have consumer appliances instruction manual. The possibilities for introducing exotic foreign cultures into the western home are belied by the imperialist jargon of the corporate manufacturer.
Domination and the Everyday, 1978
32:07 min, colour, sound
Described by Rosler as an artist-mothers This is Your Life, this non-narrative layering of images and sounds, of a woman feeding her young son, an art dealer interviewed on the radio, family photographs, advertisements and crawling text comparing life in Chile with that in the US, investigates the relationships between the corporate sector, the media, the state and the family.

Programme 3:
Total running time: 60.45
Start time: 2.30pm, 5.30pm
Martha Rosler Reads Vogue, 1982
25:45 min, colour, sound
In this live performance for Paper Tiger Televisions public access cable program in New York, Rosler investigates how magazines make meaning in contemporary society by deconstructing the messages and advertisements of Vogue. The artist also reflects on the harsher realities of sweatshops on which the fashion industry is dependent.
Born to be Sold: Martha Rosler Reads the Strange Case of Baby SM, 1988
35 min, colour, sound
Produced by Paper Tiger Television, this film reconstructs from media reports and court transcripts the real-life case of Baby M, in which a surrogate mother attempted to keep her child. Rosler takes on the roles of each of the participants and considers how a womans body becomes the site of battles over class, gender and wealth.

Super-8 Shorts:
Backyard Economy I, c.1974
3:20 min, colour, silent Backyard Economy II (Diane Germain Mowing), c. 1974
6:32 min, colour, silent
In these early super-8 shorts, Rosler uses the American home movie format to film the daily, mundane activities of a suburban housewife such as moving the lawn, hanging out the washing and playing with her son. Through throwing light onto these often overlooked chores, the artist highlights the significance of the domestic economy and the labour necessary to create a space for leisure activities.
Flower Fields, c.1975 ,
3:40 min, colour, silent
This short film was intended to create a colour field painting based on the flower fields that provided the living for so many, mostly undocumented, workers in the area. When the camera closes in on the beautiful colour-striped hillside, the laborers in the field can be seen, Later, in a run up Highway 5, we see the immigration police at their mobile roadblock.
Mission District I, c.1979
TK, colour, silent
Mission District II, c.1979
TK, colour, silent
From a car window, Rosler films the cultural and political realities of street life in a Latino district in San Francisco.

For further information and images, please contact:
Natasha Plowright
Exhibitions Press & Publicity Manager
ICA Press Office
Tel: 0207 766 1404

Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
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