“How do we deal with abandonment, ruin, decay? How do we start to imagine ourselves as deeper caretakers of the things that exist in the world?” —Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates’s (US, b. 1973) multifaceted practice includes sculpture, installation, performance, and architectural interventions. An important aspect of his work entails reclaiming and revitalizing abandoned buildings in neighborhoods across Chicago’s South Side. These spaces, called Dorchester Projects and the Stony Island Arts Bank, have become catalysts for creative and cultural gatherings, and now serve as repositories for thousands of objects. Taking things that have been cast aside from libraries, archives, and collections, the artist asks us to consider what it means to invest objects with new meanings through the simple acts of conversation, conservation, creation, and care.
This exhibition brings a number of Gates’s collections into a museum context for the first time. The Walker’s galleries will be transformed into a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, which transposes the artist’s vast collections and studio environment into four immersive rooms, each infused with his poetic interventions. Included are selections from 60,000 slides of art/architectural history from the University of Chicago Glass Lantern Slides Collection; 15,000 books and periodicals, furniture, and other ephemera from the Johnson Publishing Company Archives & Collections; 4,000 objects from the Edward J. Williams Collection of “Negrobilia”; and ceramic pots and other wares that the artist has made or collected over the past decade. Taken together, the objects on view speak to what Gates calls “the truth of the everyday” and demonstrate his “deep belief in the objects and histories of African American material culture.”
In 2017 Gates unveiled his first permanent outdoor commission Black Vessel for a Saint (2017) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Composed of custom-made black bricks, the temple-like structure provides a home for a salvaged statue of Saint Laurence, the patron saint of librarians and archivists.
Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall is on view September 5, 2019–January 12, 2020 in the Target Gallery.
Curated by Victoria Sung, Assistant Curator, Visual Arts, with William Hernández Luege, Curatorial Fellow, Visual Arts
Opening-Day Talk: Theaster Gates and Hamza Walker
Thursday, September 5, 7 pm Free
Join the artist and Hamza Walker, director, LAXART, for a lively discussion about Gates’s practice, the new exhibition, and his work with archives and collections.
Thursdays, September 5–January 9, 6–9 pm Free
Join us Thursday evenings for a complimentary cup of tea in
Gates’s ceramics room. Bring your friends with you to relax and unwind as you encounter the artist’s ceramic pots and other wares.
A Think & A Drink
Friday, September 27, 7 pm
Explore the new exhibition on an after-hours member tour, followed by complimentary small bites and drinks from the cash bar. RSVP at walkerart.org/memberevents or 612.375.7655.
Featured Playlist: Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall
September 5–January 9 Free
Stop by the Mediatheque and select the curated playlist of Gates’s moving image works, available daily during the run of the show (see page 14).