The creative practice of Theaster Gates (b. 1973) ranges from urban interventions and performance pieces to pottery. He is the lead singer of the band The Black Monks of Mississippi and the director of the Arts and Public Life initiative at the University of Chicago. An urban planner by training, he rose to renown with Dorchester Projects, an urban redevelopment endeavor on Chicago’s impoverished South Side that he has described as «real estate art».
His work continually aims to bridge the gulf between art and society and establish cultural communities as a way of initiating social, political, architectural, and urban change. At the 2013 Art Basel, he presented 100 marble slabs from the bathrooms of a bank building slated for demolition that he had inscribed with the words «In Art We Trust»; transformed into bank bonds, they helped raise funding for the Stony Island Arts Bank cultural center. Since then Gates has widely been recognized as a leading voice in contemporary art.
The artist sees himself as a collector of collections and archives, especially of America’s black culture. He is especially interested in forgotten objects, images, and themes, which he integrates into his own creative practice. As a collector of marginalized and obscure archives, Gates will join the Kunstmuseum Basel in a critical engagement with the museum’s Eurocentric collection that will broach fundamental questions concerning its spatial and organizational structures.
In his exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, which will be spread out across two of the museum’s venues, Gates will explore the cult of the Black Madonna, examining both its significance in the history of religion and its aesthetic and metaphorical tenor.
(Photo: Courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel)