I always find myself returning to the vessel. It is part of the intellectual life force of my practice and it precedes all other forms of making.
Gagosian is pleased to present Black Vessel, Theaster Gates’s first-ever solo exhibition in New York.
Gates’s oeuvre is among the most conceptually and materially rich in contemporary art, anchored equally in the canons of art history and the racial ideology of the Black diaspora. Through an art practice predicated on cultural reclamation and social empowerment, Gates exchanges and recharges objects and ideas, creating a cyclical ecosystem of renewal. Traversing a broad range of media, from painting, sculpture, sound, and performance to the processes of salvaging, archiving, and space making, he delivers penetrating social commentary on labor, material, spiritual capital, and commodity, within a close examination of the urban condition.
With potent synergies of material and meaning, Gates promotes the vessel as a container of the concrete, the symbolic, and the spiritual—a metaphor for embodied existence and a means by which to gather communities together in time and space. For Gates, who trained as a potter, the ceramic vessel is a universal object of ritual significance. In a new series of unique large-scale works in glazed and fired clay, he unites ancient traditions with modernist aesthetics, drawing elective affinities between Eastern, Western, and African techne.
Using black bricks custom-made from reconstituted materials, Gates has dramatically transformed the gallery into a resonant vessel for shared experience. An elegiac sound installation scored by the Black Monks—Gates’s renowned experimental music ensemble whose references range from Southern gospel blues to John Cage—further activates and sacralizes the space.
Inspired by his father’s occupation as a roofer, in 2012 Gates began fusing together sections of torch down and finishing the resulting compositions with enamel paint and tar. For Black Vessel, he has produced a suite of “tar paintings” on a newly imposing scale, some in modulated white, others blocked out in bold, contrasting colors. Just as postwar artists set themselves apart from gestural abstraction by utilizing mass-produced industrial materials and techniques in place of paint and canvas, Gates has imbued abstract painting with new form and meaning, first with the Civil Tapestries that charge Minimalist language with the stuff of racial injustice, and now in raw, elegant, and powerful works that employ the signifying materials and labor methodologies of rigorous building technology.
Throughout his career, Gates has rescued vast collections of Black cultural artifacts—music, books, images, photographs—housing them in restored and repurposed buildings in Chicago, or setting them in circulation throughout the world’s museums. For the Spine works, of which Walking Prayer (2018) is a key example, Gates took periodicals from the legendary Black-owned Johnson Publishing Company—which produced such magazines as Negro Digest (later named Black World) to promote and celebrate Black life—bound them into volumes, and arranged them side by side on running shelves. From one spine to the next, and the next, gilt-embossed titles form a hallowed and poetic invocation, thus proposing the library as a processional and meditative tool and the gallery as a latent warehouse of emotional and spiritual devices.
555 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6
This gallery will reopen on October 10, 2020.
In the interest of public health, please read the new guidelines for visiting the 555 West 24th Street gallery.
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 his upcoming exhibition at Gagosian, New York, this fall. In this video, shot entirely on location in Chicago during the recent tumultuous weeks, 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.