Theaster Gates’s practice traverses an extraordinary range, from collecting to social gathering, architecture and object making, experimental music and sound, and the ethical and physical reconstruction of civic life. His interdisciplinary fusion of archiving, performance, institution building, painting, and sculpting is deeply rooted in African American histories and cultures, and revolves around the transformation of objects, edifices, and communities through art and cultural activity. Photo: Chris Strong
Hans Ulrich Obrist is artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, London. He was previously the curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Since his first show, World Soup (The Kitchen Show), in 1991, he has curated more than 300 exhibitions. Photo: Tyler Mitchell
Hans Ulrich ObristWhat is your definition of art?
Theaster GatesMaterialized thought made with intention.
HUODoes money corrupt art?
TGMoney doesn’t corrupt art. People are corrupt. Corruption moves in us. If we are not trading for blankets or lucre, we would trade for notoriety, society pages, or favor. You have to choose to keep a good heart and a healthy sense of why you make. That’s the hard part.
HUOWhat is the role of titles?
TGTitles are a second artwork.
HUOWhat is your most recent work?
TGI am making a pavilion for you! Well, for me. Well, for the world. I am making a pavilion in London. Sir David Adjaye and his team supported me with the design. It was a really good process for me to go through. I hope to make many more pavilions.
HUOWhat is your unrealized project?
TGI have so many. I keep thinking about a studio on the ocean where I only draw for myself. There is tea, a volleyball, and a brazier for stews and warmth.
HUOWhat role does chance play?
TGChance is everything for me. The relationship between chance and time is central to the way I make. I rarely over-plan.
HUOWhat keeps you coming back to the studio?
TGThe studio has so much of my DNA in it. It feels like an extension of my dreams, my body, my aspirations. It’s the “me-ness” of the studio that keeps me there. Like a good stretch. I love being with my extended thoughts.
HUOWho do you admire most in history?
HUOWhat achievements of yours are you especially proud of?
TGI’m super happy that I became an artist.
HUODo you have rituals?
TGI bathe a lot. When I was young, we didn’t have showers. We only had claw-foot tubs and I came to love the immersion. Now, I try to soak as much as possible and love the traditions of water therapy from around the world.
HUOAny miracles lately?
TGWhen I talk about the resurrection of buildings and the work that happens as a result of bringing a once dead building to life again, the process feels miraculous. It makes me believe more in our ability to create and participate in miracles.
Artwork © Theaster Gates Studio