“Theaster Gates: How to Sell Hardware” at Gray Warehouse, Chicago

 

THE COLLECTING PRACTICE of Theaster Gates is about preserving archives and memorializing social history, cultural history, and changing urban landscapes. His artistic practice imagines new ways to activate, share, present, and reinvent the archives, as he does with his latest exhibition “Theaster Gates: How to Sell Hardware” at Gray Warehouse in Chicago.

For more than a decade, Gates has been acquiring significant holdings that reflect Chicago’s shifting identity and serve as a record of its shuttered local businesses and storied institutions. His collections include the Johnson Publishing Library; 8,000 records from Dr. Wax records; 14,000 books from Prairie Avenue Bookshop, which focused on architecture books; 60,000 glass lantern slides of Medieval art and architecture from the University of Chicago’s Department of Art History; and the contents of a hardware store.

In 2014, the artist acquired Halsted Hardware, a family-owned True Value Hardware store located on the South Side of Chicago—the building along with all of its merchandise. Now closed, the store was owned by Ken Mehta. If someone needed paint and said they would pay him the following week, he would trust them to do so, Mehta said, recalling the nature of the business in a video produced by the gallery,

“It was like a meeting place,” Mehta said. “People loved to come. They would come in and hang around. It was not just a business store. It became a part of our lives. It was weaved in our daily routine. I never dreaded coming to work.”

 


Storefront of Halsted Hardware on Chicago’s South Side. | Photo by Sara Pooley, Courtesy Gray

 

THE PRODUCTS AND EQUIPMENT that were once for sale in the store are now for sale in the gallery. Gates has created “paintings,” sculpture, and installations with the materials, taking his cues from the quantity and color of the products, and methods of storage and organization.

“My love of the hardware store didn’t immediately translate into something that could be identified as a work of art. I didn’t imagine it as sculpture. I didn’t imagine it as installation. I imagined it as a hardware store,” Gates said in the video.

“Over the years, as projects would come up, opportunities come up, I started thinking, was there a way that I could use the hardware store to articulate something. So then I started making up things. Could the hardware store be indicative of the changing of the urban storefront, take on Black space by acknowledging Ken’s brownness? It was an opportunity for me to dig deep into my own investment and energy and agency.”

“My love of the hardware store didn’t immediately translate into something that could be identified as a work of art. I didn’t imagine it as sculpture. I didn’t imagine it as installation. I imagined it as a hardware store.”
— Theaster Gates

Gates’s first exhibition inspired by the concept and materials of the hardware store was presented in 2016, at the Prada Foundation in Milan, Italy.

In the current show in Chicago, a large-scale vitrine is on display at the front of the exhibition. The glass enclosure is part of “The History of Conveyance” (2021), which features a retracted accordion conveyor alongside a 1912 edition of the book “How to Sell Hardware” by Roy F. Soule.

Toward the back of the show, an entire wall has been transformed into a steel peg board. Here, “Hardware Store Painting” (2021) is installed. Employing color blocking and ombre techniques, Gates has arranged a spectrum of products—painter’s tape, electrical cords, saw blades, rubber gloves, door knobs, drill bits, mop heads, vacuum cleaner bags, house numbers, and dozens more items—based on the color of the objects and their packaging, creating a suite of “paintings” in geometric forms within the board.

In the words of Gates, “This exhibition examines my instigation and 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.” CT

 

“Theaster Gates: How to Sell Hardware” is on view at Gray Warehouse in Chicago, from May 28-July 31, 2021

 


THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “History of Conveyance,” 2021 (accordion conveyor, book and vitrine, 80 ¾ × 100 × 48 inches / 205.1 × 254 × 121.9 cm). | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Detail of THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “History of Conveyance,” 2021 (accordion conveyor, book and vitrine, 80 ¾ × 100 × 48 inches / 205.1 × 254 × 121.9 cm). | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “Foot Scrubber,” 2021 (rotary abrasives and metal, 6 ½ × 29 ½ × 6 ⅛ inches / 16.5 × 74.9 × 15.6 cm). | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Installation view of THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “Hardware Store Painting,” 2021 (steel pegboard, pegs and hardware store inventory, 230 ⅝ × 425 ½ × 15 inches / 585.8 × 1080.8 × 38.1 cm), Gray Warehouse, Chicago. | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Detail of THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “Circle,” 2021 (steel pegboard, pegs and hardware store inventory, 72 × 72 × 15 inches / 182.9 × 182.9 × 38.1 cm). | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Detail of THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “Circle,” 2021 (steel pegboard, pegs and hardware store inventory, 72 × 72 × 15 inches / 182.9 × 182.9 × 38.1 cm). | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Installation view of THEASTER GATES (b. 1973), “Retaining Wall,” 2021 (25 custom steel gabions and hardware store inventory, Approximate overall install: 178 × 39 ¼ × 696 inches / 452 ×
99.7 × 1767.8 cm), Gray Warehouse, Chicago. | © Theaster Gates, Courtesy the artist and Gray

 


Ken Mehta, former owner of the now-shuttered Halsted Hardware store, and artist Theaster Gates, describe the nature of the business and how it became a source of creativity. | Video by Gray

 

BOOKSHELF
The book “How to Sell Hardware” by Roy F. Soule is featured within the exhibition. “Theaster Gates” is published by Phaidon. Recent volumes also include “Theaster Gates: Every Square Needs a Circle,” “Theaster Gates: Black Madonna,” “Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum,” and “Theaster Gatees: Black Archive.” Expected in August, “Theaster Gates: Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories: Reflections” features commissioned writings in response to the Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories, which includes nearly 3,000 framed images of women from the Johnson Publishing Company archive. Forthcoming in November, “Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon” accompanies the artist’s exhibition focused on his clay works at Whitechapel Gallery in London.

 

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