Spotlight: Theaster Gates’s New Installation in Chicago Brings a Defunct Hardware Store Back to Life

The artist's installation "How to Sell Hardware” is on view through the end of the month.

Courtesy of Gray Chicago/New York and Theaster Gates. Photograph by Sara Pooley.

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What You Need to Know: In “How to Sell Hardware,” Theaster Gates’s third solo exhibition with Gray Gallery, the artist continues his engagement with a family-owned True Value hardware store located on Chicago’s South Side. During the 1970s and ‘80s, the store was part of a thriving local community, but in the 1990s, its fate followed that of the community’s broader downturn. Gates acquired the store, and all of its merchandise, in 2014. “How to Sell Hardware” creates an immersive environment that follows the history of this urban space. 

Why We Like It: Gates has encased the store’s remaining physical inventory within dozens of stacked metal containers. The monumental construction cuts the gallery in half. The installation nods to the history of modern architecture while hinting at how such utilitarian objects are tied to everyday workers and remain a kind of oblique portraiture even after the objects themselves have become obsolete. “This exhibition examines my insistence that the world is not separated between high objects and low objects, but rather, that the artist has the capacity to determine the designation of each,” Gates has said. “Can a hardware store be considered a work of significance as a hardware store or only after transformation, reformation, dislocation, or intervention? Are all works of art not merely a series of joined objects made from things that you find at a corner store?”

What the Gallery Says: The artist’s activation of disused materials in ‘How to Sell Hardware’ speaks to the longstanding application of archives within his artistic practice. Gates first used the hardware store as a material and conceptual medium in his exhibition ‘True Value,’ which debuted at the Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2016. Alongside his work in  ceramics, painting, sculpture, installation, music, and performance, Gates’s work with archives—which includes the preservation of Jet and Ebony magazines, as well as the recovery of numerous buildings on Chicago’s South Side—draw from diverse sources and narratives, and invoke the thoughtful examination of oft-neglected or distorted Black cultural and social histories.”

See images of “How to Sell Hardware” below.

Installation view "How to Sell Hardware" (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.

Installation view of “How to Sell Hardware” (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.

Theaster Gates, Retaining Wall (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.

Theaster Gates, Retaining Wall (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.

Theaster Gates, History of Conveyance (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.

Theaster Gates, History of Conveyance (2021). Courtesy of Gray Gallery and Theaster Gates.


Theaster Gates: How to Sell Hardware” is on view at Gray Warehouse, Chicago, through July 31, 2021.


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