SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

La Mamelle Arts Center, 3rd Floor, 70 12th Street at Market

Martha Rosler, Traveling Garage Sale (1st-2nd October 1977)



The Traveling Garage Sale was held on Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2, 1977, in La Mamelle’s garage. In keeping with its dual status as both a real sale and an exemplary work, it was advertised locally, in newspapers and papers, as a garage sale and to the art community as an “event”. The “persona” I assumed for the work was that of a Southern California Woman, a mother, with roots in the counterculture, dressed in a long India-print pinafore. With the help of gallery assistants, as well as of Judith Barry and throughout, that of Diane Germain, racks were hung from the ceiling and tables were set up to hold clothing, books, records, toys, jewelry and household goods. The lighting progressed from bright to dim; the merchandise decreased progressively in quality, with the newer, more saleable, socially acceptable items -- including pornographic magazines, used diaphragms, underwear – toward the back. The racks and tables impeded progress through the long, narrow space, slowing people down and intensifying the sense of being “stuck” amid commodities.

At the rear an audiotape played. Slides were projected on the wall, “found” artifacts (bought at a garage sale) showing the ceremonial occasions of a white American family. The tape consisted of a meditation spoken by a garage-sale persona. Her musings express contradictory positions about things relating to the sale: exchange-value versus use-value of material goods, social relations and their partial obfuscation by commodity relations, the origins of commodity fetishism, the conflicting emotions of desire and shame evoked by the prospect of selling one’s cast-aways to friends and strangers, the fear of being judged by the evidence of one’s “things”. She asks questions about social forms and social relations, ranging from the trivial to the transcendent: What is the value of a thing? What makes me want it? … I paid money for these things – is there a chance to recuperate some of my investment by selling them to you? … Why not give it all away? […]

She speaks at one moment with the voice of an entrepreneur, at the next with that of the wage earner trying to supplement wages of ever-decreasing buying power; she reproduces the fragments of the ideologies of positions within different social classes. (Rosler 1978: 23)

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