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Gates at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2013
|Known for||Installation art, Urbanism|
Theaster Gates (born August 28, 1973) is an American social practice installation artist and a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, where he still lives and works. Gates' work has been shown at major museums and galleries internationally and deals with urban planning, religious space, and craft issues. He works to revitalize underserved neighborhoods by combining urban planning and art practices. Gates is represented by Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago.
Early life and education
Theaster Gates was born and raised in East Garfield Park on the West Side of Chicago. He was the youngest of nine children and the only son. His father was a roofer, and his mother a school teacher. His sisters passed on their interest in civil rights activism, and the family attended a Baptist church where Gates, a choir member, became interested in performance. Gates attended Lane Technical High School. In 1996, he graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in Urban Planning and Ceramics. After college, Gates worked primarily in ceramics and spent a year in Tokoname, Japan, studying pottery. He decided he wanted to explore religion in South Africa, and in 1998 he received an M.A. at the University of Cape Town in Fine Arts and Religious Studies.
In 2007, Gates organized a conceptual exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center titled Plate Convergence in which he staged a fictional event as an elaborate backstory for ceramic plates he had made. The fiction involved Shoji Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born potter who had emigrated to the United States after WWII and took up residence in Mississippi, where he married a local black woman and Civil Rights activist and designed a plate especially suitable for the cuisine of black people. The plate became a centerpiece of dinner parties and salons for discussing art and politics. In Gates'own words, "As the story went, [Yamaguchi] and his wife died in a car accident in 1991 and their son founded the Yamaguchi Institute to continue their vision of social transformation. I made ceramic plates, videotaped highly curated dinners and found a space for an exhibition of the ceramics and video. We gave a huge Japanese soul-food dinner, made by a Japanese chef and my sister, in honor of the Yamaguchis and their dinners. A young mixed-race artist enacted the role of their son and thanked everyone for coming."
Gates is the founder and artist Director of the Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on cultural-driven redevelopment and affordable space initiatives in under-resourced communities. Under Gates' leadership, the Rebuild Foundation currently manages projects in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago. Rebuild received official 501(c)3 status in December 2010. Program sites include the Stony Island Arts Bank, the Black Cinema House, the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, Archive House, and Listening House.
For the Dorchester Projects, one of Rebuild's Foundation's most celebrated works, he restored vacant buildings and turned them into cultural institutions with artifacts from the South Side. Gates's Rebuild Foundation has renovated two houses on Dorchester Avenue, now called the Archive House and the Listening House. In 2013, he purchased the Stony Island State Savings Bank from the city of Chicago. The Archive House holds 14,000 architecture books from a closed bookshop. The Listening House holds 8,000 records purchased at the closing of Dr. Wax Records. The bank, now known as the Stony Island Arts Bank, contains the book collection of John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines; the record collection of Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of house music; and slides of the collections of the University of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2015, his Stony Island work was included in the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Gates's active place making includes the investment into the materiality and poetics of space, communal dinners, performances, film screenings and an artist residency program with a focus on sustainable site-specific projects. In Dorchester Projects, Gates's interests in a history of making, as well as the history of the city cumulate, but despite historical preferentiality, the places have a distinct atmosphere of nowness.
University of Chicago Arts and Public Life initiative
Since 2011, Gates has been the director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago. In this role, he oversees staff at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a wide network of resident and visiting artists (including current and former participants in our residency program), community participants, programmatic partners, and friends. He is also a full professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University.
Gates is also the leader of the Place Lab, a partnership between Arts + Public Life and the Harris School of Public Policy, which is working to design and implement new approaches to urban development. The Place Lab partners with the demonstration cities of Gary, Akron, Detroit, and other Knight Foundation communities.
Other exhibitions and performances
Theaster Gates has a fascination with laborers' skills, such as swinging an ax with precision. At the National Gallery of Art, Theaster Gates took an ax to one of his own paintings. The end result was a glossy black canvas with a gaping wound at its center. The art piece is part of a collection of the artist's new works called "The Minor Arts." Gates states that as much as he is invested in color field painting, he is also invested in the fact that black schools are closing on the South Side [of Chicago], that poor schools are closing all over the country, including in D.C, which motivated him to create this performance piece.
He returned to Chicago and was hired by the Chicago Transit Authority to organize and obtain public art for its public transportation system. In 2006 he was awarded an M.S. in Urban Planning, again from Iowa State, with additional studies in Ceramics, and Religious Studies. In 2006, he was hired by the University of Chicago as an arts programmer, and later director of arts outreach. In addition to creating fine arts pottery, he became interested in presenting performance art.
The New York Times site lists research and video documentary of the life in Chicago and the efforts of Theaster Gates to rebuild art pieces for demonstration with material salvaged from shuttered African-American businesses, schools and churches on the South Side of Chicago, where he is based, into a tower gallery in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. Some of the articles contain quoted thoughts that the Mr. Gates gave. He hopes his work could operate as both an interesting art object and as a catalyst to help the restoration of schools. The second installment in its acclaimed "Processions" performance series organized by artist Theaster Gates. "Plantation Lullabies," held Friday, Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m., will be the second in a series of four collaborative performances that introduce unexpected and unexplored connections between sacred music, African and African American culture and history, theater, world dance and chant. Gates is the founder and executive director of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, which now oversees a network of buildings across the South Side, including Dorchester Projects and the Stony Island Arts Bank, as well as a professor in the Department of Visual Arts and director of arts and public life at the University of Chicago.
Social sculptor Theaster Gates wants to turn a wrecked Prohibition-era bank in Chicago into something else. Gates was trained as a potter, but his artistic practice includes, among many things, sculpture, musical performance, installation and something that has been called large-scale urban intervention. Looking at Gates' other projects, Austen explores whether Gates can turn inner-city Chicago into art. Gates believes that this is almost the work of identifying talented people who can benefit from the "off-heating" of his projects, empowering them, figuring out how they can help maintain and enlarge a community of innovation, enterprise, and security. "I'm creating a kind of ecology of opportunity," he says.
January 2014 he designed a million-dollar installation for the South Side's 95th Street subway terminal. It is the largest public art project in the history of the Chicago Transit Authority. He was participant at the 2012 DOCUMENTA (13) art show in Kassel, Germany, the 2010 Whitney Biennial in New York, the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010, the 2010 Art Chicago fair. He was included in "Hand+Made: The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft", at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and in 2013 had a solo show, 13th Ballad, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gates is represented by Regen Projects of Los Angeles and White Cube, London. On May 30, 2014, Gates and jazz pianist Jason Moran led a one-time performance entitled Looks of a Lot as part of the "Symphony Center Presents Jazz" series and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's "Truth to Power Festival."
In October 2015, Gates created an installation at Temple Church, Bristol, England. Built in co-operation with its owner English Heritage, "Sanctum" will provide a venue with 24 hours of music and performance over 24 days, in a performance event funded by Arts Council England and developed as part of Bristol 2015 Green Capital.
- 2008 – Artadia Award
- 2012 – Fellow of United States Artists
- 2012 – "Innovator of the Year" by the Wall Street Journal
- 2012 – #56 in ArtReview list of the hundred most powerful people in the art world
- 2013 – Inaugural Award of The Vera List Center for Art and Politics
- 2013 – #40 in ArtReview list of the hundred most powerful people in the art world
- 2014 – #44 on Art Review's Power 100
- 2015 – £40,000 Artes Mundi award in Cardiff, Wales
- 2015 – Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from San Francisco Art Institute
- 2015 – Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress
- 2016 – Kurt Schwitters Prize for 2017
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- "About". Place Lab. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
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- "2015 American Ingenuity Award Winners". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
- Anny Shaw (April 12, 2016), Theaster Gates wins Germany’s Kurt Schwitters Prize, The Art Newspaper.
- Carol Becker, Lisa Yun Lee, Achim Borchardt-Hume, Theaster Gates, Phaidon, London, 2015.
- Bill Brown, Fred Moten, Jacqueline Terrassa, Theaster Gates: My Labor Is My Protest, White Cube, London, 2013.
- Michael Darling, Matthew Day Jackson, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Theaster Gates: 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, Walther König, Cologne, 2012.
- Tom McDonough, "Interview: Theaster Gates", Bomb Magazine 130, Winter 2015
- "Force of nature", LUX Magazine, October 11, 2013
- Mark Godfrey, "Designs for Life", Frieze Magazine, September 1, 2012
- "The New Revolutionary", Mousse Magazine, 2011
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