why rob pruitt is donating a year’s worth of ebay sales to planned parenthood
The New York-based artist sounds off on his eBay side business, and why it’s more important than ever to support reproductive health.
It's hard to find an artist with better eBay feedback than Rob Pruitt. For the past two years, the New York-based multimedia maverick and his studio team have been operating an eBay Flea Market -- a digital version of the real life tag sales he used to stage at spots like Opening Ceremony's Ace Hotel outpost. Right now, he's listed a few MacBook chargers, plastic sheet protectors, and one glitter paint test canvas that's really raking in the bids. Last year, Rob's eBay sales totaled $5,000 -- a sum he announced today will be donated to Planned Parenthood.
"I started the eBay Flea Market because I had been doing not internet flea markets for a couple of years, which were more like curatorial projects that involved my artist friends -- sort of like organizing a big group show," Pruitt told me over the phone. "It's something that I really like to do because I accumulate a lot of stuff; I go to lots of tag sales, estate sales and flea markets, and always give the excuse that I'm buying these things because they're going to be source material for art projects, but it's really just because I can't help myself. I'm a buyer of things."
To get rid of all the accumulation, he started an eBay store. "From the very first day, I thought all of the money would always go to charity," said Pruitt. Each benefiting organization is a joint decision between Pruitt and his studio assistants, who toss ideas around at lunch each day. The first year, Rob and his team generated $10,000 in eBay sales, a sum which was donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "Someone who works in the studio has had cystic fibrosis since they were a kid, so that just seemed right because it was something in our midst," Pruitt said. This year's sales are slightly lower, Pruitt explained, because for about half the year, he was hosting all of the Brant family's personal belongings that didn't sell during his show-cum-tag sale at the Brant Foundation in May on eBay. The Brants chose to donate their proceeds to the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.
But following Congress' recent decision to defund the reproductive health non profit of the $450 million it receives through federal grant programs, Pruitt's $5,000 is badly needed. "Given all of the hits that Planned Parenthood has taken from the extreme right trying to shut it down and get the states to defund it, we thought [donating it to the organization] was the right thing to do with the money that we earned this year," said Pruitt.
As to what his bidders shell out big bucks for, it's always a surprise. "At the end of the year, we sell all the old paintbrushes from the studio and buy new ones, and a coffee can full of paint brushes will sell for like $500," Pruitt explained, though he suspect that's because it resembles the shape of a sculpture, rather than, say, a set of sheets. All of Pruitt's first year sales were recently compiled as an art book.
Ultimately, Pruitt's ambitions for the eBay Flea Market are simple. "I hope that people enjoy it because I enjoy doing it. Some of the things that I sell really do seem like worthless junk, but at the year's end, we end up with this big pile of money and so I think that that makes it seem like it hasn't been a waste of time," he said. "I just really love the idea of a performance art project that has this afterlife -- that can help people in a very real way, have some real world effect.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Benedict Brink