Who is Theaster Gates?
Having trained as both a sculptor and urban planner, Theaster Gates works with an unusual combination of sculpture, installation and performance which bridges the gap between art and life. Much of his work is closely related to social and political upheaval, responding to his environment and the urbanisation of Chicago in particular. He's also left his mark on the city, not only as Director of Arts and Public Life at Chicago University, but by intervening in the physical fabric of Chicago itself.
Theaster Gates | Dorchester Projects & famous work
Concerned with the revitalisation of poor neighbourhoods, Theaster Gates is best known for the Dorchester Projects (2009-2011) where he restored dilapidated buildings on the south side of Chicago. Gates was able to transform these spaces into cultural hubs with meals, concerts, and even a book and record library. Fittingly, the project was financed the entirely by selling artworks made from materials found in the estate. Or you might know Gates' famous Documenta installation of a reconstructed Hugenot House in Kassel.
White Cube Bermondsey Exhibition
In his new exhibition at Jay Jopling's White Cube, Theaster Gates takes a turn away from explicit social meaning, and lets the objects speak for themselves. Using roofing materials, tar and objects from an abandoned hardware store, Freedom of Assembly spotlights a body of new work that engages with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution - freedom of expression. But if you are looking for a provocative sermon on the importance of expression, you've come to the wrong place. Gates' work is far more complex and nuanced than that.
Theaster Gates review
The exhibition moves from a colourful medley of wooden vitrines from a closed-down hardware store in Chicago, to two paintings constructed from the gym floor from several of the 56 schools in Chicago that were closed down last year. Instead of tackling these social issues directly, Gates works through the medium of history painting and allows the material of the gym floor in Ground Rules (2015) to tell the story directly.
Similarly in the largest and most compelling room of the show, filled with giant tar paintings and clay pots, the paintings are less about mark making than about building roofs. Implicit to this series of gestural works of tar on wood, felt and various other materials, is the process of construction and the nature of heavy, urban materials. For the series of pots coated in tar and other materials in the centre of the gallery, Gates really returns to his first love of clay.
Across the galleries are a number of small figures, standing watch over Gates' work. These statuettes have startling resonances with African tourist tat, which become knock-offs of a knock-off: sculptures which have their original cultural meaning buried in layers of copies. Gates confesses that these figures were an effort to push the show away from a classically formal gallery exhibition.
Stepping in and out of the studio, the gallery space is explicitly linked to the streets of Chicago, you just need to take the time to understand the meaning buried within each object.
Having already exhibited and performed at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Whitechapel Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gates will be one to watch in 2015 as he gears up to the 56th Venice Biennale and continued international acclaim.
|Theaster Gates: Freedom of Assembly, White Cube
|White Cube Bermondsey, 144-152 Bermondsey Street , London, SE1 3TQ | MAP
|London Bridge (underground)
29 Apr 15 – 05 Jul 15, Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm and Sunday, 12pm – 6pm
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