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Theaster Gates, Hardware Store Painting, 2021

How to Sell Hardware tells the story of Theaster Gates’s ongoing engagement with a family-owned True Value hardware store formerly located on Chicago’s South Side. Once a lively central space for local commerce, the True Value store shared in the growth and prosperity of a thriving community during the 1970s and 80s, filling its practical and social needs. The hardware store similarly mirrored the neighborhood’s downturns as business slowed in the 1990s with the emergence of big-box stores which drastically changed the needs and habits of the once-prosperous Chicago neighborhood. Gates, whose practice is deeply invested in the material preservation of neglected social and cultural histories, acquired the store and all of its merchandise in 2014 and has continued to engage with it ever since. Through Gates’s material and conceptual interpositions, How to Sell Hardware memorializes the history of a changing urban landscape.

Gates’s immersive installation at Gray Warehouse offers a repository and material testimony to a bygone era. Amassing and repurposing what physical inventory remained from the store, Gates encases volumes of densely packed material within dozens of stacked metal containers to form a fortifying rampart-like wall that bisects the gallery. A monumental construction, Gates’s weighty memorial nods to the history of modern architecture while exposing the aesthetic potential of utilitarian items to be fundamentally didactic, carrying with them the legacy of the everyday worker and shopkeeper even after the objects themselves become cast aside or obsolete.

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