I went to a garage sale today.
At the Museum of Modern Art.
It was an intersection of an American cultural phenomenon at a fine art institution. Piles of used goods both haphazardly placed and loosely organized by type clutter the second floor atrium of the MoMA, a space that has hosted many large-scale installations. The work is called Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, by artist Martha Rosler, and is running from Nov. 17-30.
Some of the scene is staged, with pieces selected and arranged by the artist, while visitors have donated much of goods sold in the installation. Although the installation is a functioning sale, it has the traces of an intentionally designed set. Empty gin bottles are strewn over a pile of dusty silk slips in the trunk of a vintage Mercedes. A half mocking, half serious statement, “MAYBE THE GARAGE SALE IS A METAPHOR FOR THE MIND,” is scrawled across a chalkboard positioned behind a video camera taping the garage sale. Signs encouraging visitors to haggle are scattered across the racks of clothes, appliances, gaudy knick-knacks, and furniture. You won’t find dollar deals as the sale boasts $20 dollar girlie mags, a $90 wooden playhouse, and an $80 sculpture made from random trinkets. Early photographs of the installation show a less heavily stocked version of what it looks like today as new goods come and go each day of the installation.
What was most interesting about the installation was seeing how each visitor treated the piece differently. Some took it as a serious garage sale, digging through the racks for a good deal, while others circulated around the sporadically laid out tables of items, examining it like a gallery piece.
The notion of a garage sale is a rare phenomenon to find in New York. You rarely see an individual with a table of used goods, sitting on a lawn chair in front of their apartment building while waiting for passersby to show interest in their spread of tchotchkes. There are no yards or garages to hold these informal cash-only exchanges. It is even more odd to find such a display at museum that houses a multi-million dollar collection of art with glossy gift shops and expensive cafes. A rack of prints and paintings held in rusty frames dons the sign, “more art on other side,” as making a nod to its priceless counterparts.
Whether you’re interested in the piece as an art installation or a garage sale head on down to the MoMA before Nov. 30 to see it. It is open from 12-5pm on Wed-Thurs and Sat-Mon and from 12-7:30pm on Friday.
Caroline Chen CC’15