Theaster Gates’ multifaceted practice includes sculpture, installation, performance, and architectural and archival interventions. Gates is best known for his ongoing development of a growing neighborhood of buildings on Chicago’s South Side that have been revitalized to house libraries, archives, and collections, as well as host performances and community gatherings. This exhibition spotlights the artistic gesture inherent in Gates’ commitment to collecting, conserving, and caretaking collections, ultimately arguing for the centrality of what he calls “resurrections” to his creative practice, especially as they relate to his “deep belief in the objects and histories of African-American material culture.”
The Walker’s galleries will be transformed into a gesamtkunstwerk, or a total work of art, that transposes the artist’s vast collections and studio environment into four immersive rooms. The highlighted collections, on loan outside of Chicago for the first time, include selections of the following: 60,000 slides of art and architectural history from the University of Chicago Glass Lantern Slides Collection; 15,000 books, periodicals, furniture, and other ephemera from the Johnson Publishing Company Archives & Collections; 4,000 objects from the Edward J. Williams Collection of “Negrobilia”; Ceramic pots and other wares the artist has both made and collected over the past decade. In each of the rooms, Gates will introduce a poetic gesture that speaks to his ongoing engagement with these collections in the context of his studio practice.
In 2017 Gates unveiled his first outdoor commission Black Vessel for a Saint (2017) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Composed of custom-made black bricks, the structure provides a permanent home for a salvaged statue of Saint Laurence, the patron saint of librarians and archivists.
Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall is on view September 7, 2019–January 12, 2020 in the Target Gallery.
Curator: Victoria Sung, Assistant Curator, Visual Arts
Theaster Gates (b. Chicago, 1973) is an American installation and sculpture artist. He first encountered creativity in the music of Black churches on his journey to becoming an urban planner, potter, and artist. Gates creates sculptures with such materials as clay, tar, and rundown buildings, transforming the raw material of urban neighborhoods into radically reimagined vessels of opportunity. Many of the artist’s works evoke his African-American identity and the broader struggle for civil rights, from sculptures incorporating fire hoses, to events organized around soul food, and choral performances by the experimental musical ensemble Black Monks of Mississippi, led by Gates himself.
Gates has received widespread international recognition for such presentations as Gone Are the Days of Shelter and Martyr at the Venice Biennale (2015) and 12 Ballads for Huguenot House at Documenta 13 (2012). Recent solo exhibitions include The Black Image Corporation at Fondazione Prada, Milan (2018); Black Madonna at Kunstmuseum Basel (2018); and Black Archive at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2016). He currently serves as a professor at the University of Chicago; an artist in residence at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; and a visiting artist at Colby College, Waterville, Maine.
Apart from the Minneapolis Suclpture Garden, Gates has previously presented several works at the Walker Art Center, including presentations in the 2016 exhibition Question the Wall Itself and the 2014 exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. He also collaborated on the 2012 performance of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s red, black & GREEN: a blues.