Theaster Gates pays homage to hardware stores through his latest show at Richard Gray Gallery, “How to Sell Hardware.” The exhibition is centered around a family-owned True Value store on the South Side of the city, which Gates acquired in 2014. The work on view highlights the idea of community, through a primarily negative perspective, while thinking about the significance of brick-and-mortar stores, explored in a photographic tour through different neighborhoods.
“How to Sell Hardware” takes a look at Gates’ practice concerning the relevance of urban landscape. The pandemic forced many of us to turn to online services to get our necessities, but Gates provokes us to think about the physical space that possesses cultural significance, specifically in Chicago’s South Side. The golden age of the South Side, the 1970s and 1980s when Black excellence was at its peak, was echoed in the life of the True Value, then a staple in the community. With the decline of economic prosperity in the area and the proliferation of big-box stores, this True Value, like many other family-owned establishments, took a hit.
The physical space of the gallery and what occupies that space is redefined via the repurposing of the remaining inventory of the store. Gates challenges the viewer to understand the value of that inventory. The value of the items in True Value didn’t change. The physical use of the items remains the same, yet other influences devalued the inside of the store, which is now elevated to high art. The viewer is also challenged to think about what is art, and how art occupies space. We must ask ourselves how big art can be? Can a hardware store be art? But to take that a step further: where do we get the materials for art from?
The immersive aspect of “How to Sell Hardware” builds on Gates’ practice of the importance of physical building in urban spaces. “Circle,” 2021 takes the architectural tone of True Value material through the steel pegs in a less utilitarian way. Through “Circle,” the viewer is able to rework how they value household items that come together to create a piece of work that exists outside of retail value. Gates is subjecting the viewer to question how they understand the use of objects that we often interact with on a daily basis.
Gates forces us to think about the value of everyday objects in a new way that exists in a contrasting space than what we are used to. His continuing interest in urban renewal, while questioning our interpretation of everyday objects, is displayed in “ How to Sell Hardware.” (Caira Moreira Brown)
“How to Sell Hardware” is on view at Gray Warehouse, 2044 West Carroll, through July 31.