My body is capital, my brain is capital, my hands are capital, and the byproducts of my hands are capital. And once I understand my own value, I think about spatial value, the value of other people, the value of people working together, the possibility of exponential value as a result of certain kinds of bodies rubbing up against each other.
Theaster Gates has incubated new models for artistic creation, social transformation, and building legacies. Traversing a vast array of methodologies encompassing sculpture, performance, and archives, he explores concepts of value and economy, as well as spiritual and material exchange, as they perform in charged social contexts.
Gates first began to work with clay at Iowa State University, Ames, where he received a BS in 1996. After graduating, he studied pottery in Tokoname, Japan, before receiving an MA in fine arts and religious studies from the University of Cape Town in 1998 and an MA in urban planning from Iowa State in 2006. These seemingly disparate interests came together in Gates’s oeuvre as early as 2007, in Plate Convergence at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago. For this performance piece, Gates organized a dinner party themed on a fictional tale of a cultural collaboration between a Black family and a Japanese ceramicist.
In 2010 Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform targeting neighborhood regeneration, community arts programming, and cultural development in Chicago. Many of the foundation’s initiatives have focused on revitalizing Chicago’s South Side—creating hubs and archives for Black culture that catalyze discussions about race, equality, space, and history. Two years later, at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, Gates expanded this redemptive urban initiative into a transatlantic correspondence with 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, in which two derelict nineteenth-century buildings—one in Kassel, the other in Chicago—underwent a mutual transmutation, whereby parts of each were reused in the rebuilding of the other, and the resulting spaces were consecrated with live performance.
Gates began his Civil Tapestry series, stitching salvaged fire hoses over wooden supports, in 2011. The resulting works appear abstract and minimalist but are historically charged; they evoke the Black American struggle during the Civil Rights movement, in which law enforcers broke up peaceful civilian marches with the violent use of high-pressure hoses. In 2012 Gates introduced tar as a medium in his work, with a series of textural, high-relief paintings in tribute to his father’s occupation as a roofer. Sometimes featuring footprints and drips, these paintings literally and metaphorically equate making a roof with making art. In a subsequent series of scarred bronze wall reliefs, he immortalized the rough, tar-papered surfaces of Chicago roofs in a sculptural material that is ancient, noble, and universal.
Gates started the Black Madonna Press in 2018, distributing materials drawn from his expansive collection of print media and archival photography. His project Black Image Corporation (2018–) promoted new awareness of the legendary Johnson Publishing Company, which was responsible for circulating positive and glamorous images of Black middle-class life through culturally influential magazines such as Ebony and Jet. Selections of images from the vast Johnson Publishing Company archive, along with relics from the corporate offices, have featured in Gates’s exhibitions at institutions including the Kunstmuseum Basel (2018), Osservatorio Fondazione Prada, Milan (2018–19, traveled to Gropius Bau, Berlin), and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2019–20).
Since 2009 Gates has led the Black Monks, a musical ensemble channeling traditional secular and religious Black music through experimental forms of improvisation and dialogue. Gates has brought his performative practice into the museum, including his ongoing series Processions—held at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, between 2016 and 2019—which investigates “sonic imagination” and celebrates Black history and culture through music workshops and recitals. In 2019 Gates brought B.A.R. (Black Artists Retreat), a project of cultural exchange that he has held yearly since 2013 at his studio in Chicago, to the Park Avenue Armory in New York.
Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago and director of artist initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He was artist-in-residence at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, in 2018–19. In 2017 Gates was awarded the Artes Mundi 6 prize and received the French government’s Chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.
Extended through September 11, 2021
Curated by Antwaun Sargent
June 24–September 11, 2021
555 West 24th Street, New York
Extended through January 23, 2021
October 10, 2020–January 23, 2021
555 West 24th Street, New York
Social Works: The Archives of Frankie Knuckles Organized by Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates, steward of the Frankie Knuckles record collection, is engaging with the late DJ and musician’s archive of records, ephemera, and personal effects. For the Quarterly’s “Social Works” supplement, guest edited by Antwaun Sargent, Gates presents a selection of Knuckles’s personal record collection. Chantala Kommanivanh, a Chicago-based artist, educator, and musician—and the records manager for Rebuild Foundation, Chicago—provides annotations, contextualizing these records’ importance and unique qualities. Ron Trent, a dear friend of Knuckles’s, speaks to the legacy evinced by these materials.
Artist to Artist: Edmund de Waal and Theaster Gates
Join the artists for an extended conversation about their most recent exhibitions, their forebears in the world of ceramics, and the key role that history plays in their practices.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2020
The Fall 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available.
Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation
As a prelude to his first-ever solo exhibition in New York, Theaster Gates discusses his prescient work with the photographic archive of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company and his formation of Black Image Corporation as a conceptual project. In conversation with Louise Neri, he expands on his strategies as artist and social innovator in his quest to redeem and renew the sacred power of Black images and Black space.
How to Renew the Color of Bricks
Social historian Chris Dingwall reflects on Theaster Gates’s engagement with the history of quotidian materials, focusing on the symbolic qualities and function of his brick-based sculpture.
Theaster Gates: Black Vessel
Join Theaster Gates in his studio as he prepares for an upcoming exhibition at Gagosian, New York. In this video, shot on location in Chicago during the tumultuous weeks of protest in late spring 2020, Gates reflects on the metaphorical power of materials and process, and on the redemptive potential of art.
Cast of Characters
James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.
Theaster Gates: Amalgam
Theaster Gates’s exhibition Amalgam explores the social histories of migration and interracial relations by highlighting the specific history of the Maine island of Malaga. Here, William Whitney considers the exhibition in relation to Gates’s ongoing art practices and social commitments.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2019
The Winter 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a selection from Christopher Wool’s Westtexaspsychosculpture series on its cover.
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Established in 1968, the Studio Museum in Harlem has served as a crucial institution in the development, presentation, and promotion of artists of African descent. With the museum now preparing for the construction of a new home, Gagosian’s Mark Francis spoke with Thelma Golden, director and chief curator, and Sir David Adjaye OBE, the project’s principal architect, about the building plans and the centrality of artists in their collaboration.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
Behind the Art
Theaster Gates: Slate Wall Drawing
Theaster Gates’s exhibition Amalgam at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, features some of the artist’s slate wall drawings. Watch as Gates creates one of these works in this time-lapse video, featuring music by Theaster Gates and the Black Monks.
October 21–24, 2021, booth B23
Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris
Gagosian is pleased to participate in FIAC 2021 with a presentation of painting, sculpture, and works on paper by gallery artists. The booth will feature works by Georg Baselitz, Edmund de Waal, Helen Frankenthaler, Theaster Gates, Katharina Grosse, Simon Hantaï, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Steven Parrino, Auguste Rodin, Sterling Ruby, Setsuko, Jim Shaw, and Cy Twombly, among others. A selection of the works will also appear on gagosian.com and in FIAC’s Online Viewing Room.
Gagosian’s booth at FIAC 2021. Artwork, left to right: © Giuseppe Penone/2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; © Michael Heizer; © Georg Baselitz, 2021; © Pier Paolo Calzolari. Photo: Thomas Lannes
Kiesler Prize 2021
Theaster Gates has been awarded the twelfth Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts by a jury of his peers. The prize is awarded and endowed alternately every two years by the Republic of Austria and the City of Vienna and organized by the Vienna-based Austrian Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation. Gates was recognized for his extraordinary achievements in effecting social change, spatial transformation, and empowerment through his creative practice, which spans a range of artistic genres connected with a social agenda and can be easily linked to the late artist/architect Frederick Kiesler’s belief in the unification of the arts with the built environment and the social notion of space.
Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects (2006–), Chicago. Artwork © Theaster Gates. Photo: Sara Pooley
Tuesday, August 10, 2021, 6pm EDT
Join Theaster Gates and Louise Bernard, founding director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center, for a discussion about art and democracy on the occasion of the exhibition The Obama Portraits, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 15, 2021. To attend the online event, register at sales.artic.edu.
Left: Theaster Gates. Photo: Rankin. Right: Louise Bernard
Collection of Qiao Zhibing
Through December 19, 2021
Qiao Zhibing, contemporary art collector and founder of Tank Shanghai, has selected works from his private collection by twelve Chinese and international contemporary artists for this exhibition, which explores the inspiration art brings to the public from a visual perspective. Work by Theaster Gates and Thomas Houseago is included.
Installation view, Aesthetics: Collection of Qiao Zhibing, Tank Shanghai, March 19–October 11, 2021. Artwork, left: © Thomas Houseago; center and right: © Theaster Gates. Photo: courtesy Tank Shanghai
A Clay Sermon
Through January 9, 2022
Whitechapel Gallery, London
Surveying two decades of work by Theaster Gates, from his early hand-thrown pots to his large-scale Afro-Mingei sculptures, A Clay Sermon investigates the material and spiritual legacies of clay. Exploring craft, labor, performance, and racial identity, as well as clay’s role in ceremony, ritual, colonialism, and global trade, Gates has made a selection of historical ceramics from private and public collections to exhibit alongside his own work. The exhibition includes a new film by Gates, which takes the form of a sermon on clay, and his most recent body of work: large stoneware vessels installed on plinths of hand-milled wood and stone.
Theaster Gates standing next to his sculpture Vessel #20 (2020). Artwork © Theaster Gates. Photo: Chris Strong
Slight Intervention #5
Through January 9, 2022
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
In this exhibition, Theaster Gates engages with histories of spirituality, Black music, craft, and modernism in two clay interventions. Using his skills as a potter, Gates communicates with makers across time and between cultures. The display includes a new vessel produced in response to American studio potter Peter Voulkos’s work and a vitrine containing objects made at Gates’s temporary workshop at the Istanbul Biennial.
Installation view, Theaster Gates: Slight Intervention #5, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
September 18–January 9, 2022. Artwork © Theaster Gates. Photo: Jamie Stoker
Theaster Gates in
The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse
May 22–September 6, 2021
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
The Dirty South investigates the aesthetic impulses of early twentieth-century Black culture that have become ubiquitous within the American South. The exhibition chronicles the sonic and visual parallels that have served to shape the contemporary landscape, and looks deeply into the frameworks of landscape, religion, and the Black body—deep meditative repositories of thought and expression. Within the visual arts, assemblage, collage, appropriation, and sonic transference are explored as deeply connected to musical traditions. Work by Theaster Gates is included.
Theaster Gates, Shoe Shine 1, 2009 © Theaster Gates. Photo: courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York