“How to Sell Hardware functions as a kind of reconciliation between my relationship to art and the truth of the public sphere,” Gates described. “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. 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?”
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.
Theaster Gates (b.1973) currently lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates works that engage with space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Drawing on his interest and training in urban planning and preservation, Gates redeems spaces that have been left behind. Known for his recirculation of art world capital, Gates’s practice focuses on the possibility of the “life within things.” His work contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise–one defined by collective desire, artistic agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist.
Gates has received numerous awards, including the Crystal Award (2020), Nasher Prize (2018), the Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017), the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Award (2016), and the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress (2015). His work can be found in public collections worldwide, including the Menil Collection, Houston; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Tate Gallery, London; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and the Harris School of Public Policy.