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 January 23, 2021
October 10, 2020–January 23, 2021
555 West 24th Street, New York
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.
(RED) Auction 2018
Theaster Gates and Sir David Adjaye join Bono to spearhead (RED)’s third auction of contemporary art and design, raising funds for the global fight against AIDS. As Gagosian prepares the preview exhibition, Gillian Pistell looks at the urgency of this vital cause.
Art Basel OVR: Pioneers
Innovate, Originate, Overturn: Modern and Contemporary Pioneers
March 24–27, 2021
One of a hundred selected galleries, Gagosian is pleased to present Innovate, Originate, Overturn: Modern and Contemporary Pioneers, an exclusive online project for Art Basel’s launch of OVR: Pioneers. The presentation will include works by Helen Frankenthaler, Theaster Gates, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Nam June Paik, and Rachel Whiteread.
Theaster Gates, American Tapestry, 2019 © Theaster Gates
Thursday, February 25, 2021, 4pm EST
Theaster Gates will be in dialogue with Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the New Museum, New York, on the occasion of Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, an exhibition originally conceived by curator Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019). The show brings together thirty-seven artists who have addressed the concept of mourning, commemoration, and loss as a direct response to the national emergency of racist violence experienced by Black communities across America. This is the first program in a series of conversations highlighting the practices of artists participating in the New Museum exhibition. To attend the online event, register at www.tfaforms.com.
Theaster Gates, Gone Are the Days of Shelter and Martyr, 2014 (still) © Theaster Gates
Friday, February 12, 2021, 3pm est
Theaster Gates will speak with Hawai‘i Triennial 2022 curatorial director Melissa Chiu as part of the inaugural Hawai‘i Contemporary Art Summit 2021. The pair will discuss the coalescence of art, craft, architecture, and urban planning in Gates’s artistic practice. The four-day virtual summit, which begins on February 10, brings together renowned keynote speakers, artists, curators, and thinkers from Hawai‘i and around the world for a series of talks, panels, performance-based events, and educational programming focused on art and ideas. To join the talk, register for the summit at hawaiicontemporary.org.
Photo: John R. Boehm
Through May 16, 2021
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Theaster Gates’s Breathing (2010) is a video work inspired by the artist’s avid interest in Eastern Buddhism as well as his lifelong personal relationship with traditional gospel music, which constituted a formative aspect of his Baptist upbringing. The singers who appear in the video belong to an experimental choir known as the Black Monks (formerly the Black Monks of Mississippi), which Gates has directed since 2008. The Black Monks merge Black Southern gospel and blues music with the monastic chant traditions of Buddhism. The soothing, beautiful melodies that result from this unique hybrid testify to the potency of Black spiritual musical legacies while alluding to a communal experience that transcends geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.
Theaster Gates, Breathing, 2010 (still) © Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates and Cauleen Smith
October 17, 2020–May 23, 2021
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Bringing together the work of two interdisciplinary artists, this presentation centers on video projections that each take archival magazine photography as a departure point. Theaster Gates’s Do you hear me calling? Mama Mamama or What Is Black Power? (2018) pays homage to the power of women by exploring the idea of the Black Madonna through a reworking of three decades of images drawn from the archives of the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Jet and Ebony magazines. Smith’s Sojourner (2018) culminates with a feminist reimagining of an unpublished photograph taken for Life magazine in 1966.
Theaster Gates, Do you hear me calling? Mama Mamama or What Is Black Power?, 2018 (still) © Theaster Gates
Through May 23, 2021
Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai
Theaster Gates: China Cabinet explores the links that exist between Gates’s activity as a ceramist and his work as a visual artist, performer, professor, urban planner, and community activist. Organized with support of Fondazione Prada, the exhibition is conceived as a narrative in three chapters that unfolds across multiple staged settings in which the artist’s role evolves from guest to ghost to host. Following tableaux suggesting an antique Chinese porcelain boutique and a reconstruction of Gates’s potter’s workshop, the story culminates with the artist’s complete occupation of Prada Rong Zhai with artworks displayed as they would be in a private home.
Installation view, Theaster Gates: China Cabinet, Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai, March 11–May 23, 2021. Artwork © Theaster Gates. Photo: Alessandro Wang
Theaster Gates in
Lost and Looking
Through June 5, 2021
Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, Indiana
Considering how place and loss affect us all, the artists included in Lost and Looking confront the reality of our pasts and our futures. Places from our collective and personal histories help define who we are even as they remain fluid in our mind’s eyes. The exhibiting artists consistently explore how true or fictionalized memories can be, and how accurate or inaccurate recorded history truly is. The ever-shifting landscape, filled with false histories, be they personal or historical, drives these artists in their quest for higher meaning. Work by Theaster Gates is included.
Theaster Gates, Whyte Hole, 2010 © Theaster Gates