Artist Profile: Theaster Gates

Dorchester Projects, Copyright Theaster Gates, 2013
Dorchester Projects, Theaster Gates, 2013. Photo courtesy of artist’s website.

On December 20, 2013, The New York Times Magazine published a feature on Theaster Gates – the Chicago-based artist who is a pioneer in what is being classified as social practice art or community-based art.

Whatever the category, the article was a fantastic look inside the artist’s process, history and vision. It dove into his public projects on the South Side of Chicago, his urban interventions, his relationships with the neighbors on the block. It explained what had been set in motion and left us anxiously waiting to know what more will be accomplished.

soul manufacturing corporation at locust projects 2012
“Soul Manufacturing Corporation” at Locust Projects 2012. Photo Courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Gates is an artist that creates anticipation, stirring in the viewer the desire and hope to re-imagine what can be conceived. His works combine object making, usually in the form of pottery, space development and public performance. He is both city planner, sculptor, activist and musician – and he laces those identities into a seamless practice that always reflects back to the community.

Gates has an eye. He sees beauty in what others have condemned; seeks out the architectural acmes in salvage yards, refashions the ordinary into something to ponder. Along with his eye, comes his perspective. Rather than settle on the aesthetic, he reflects on the public. And that is what imbues his work with so great a power.


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One thought on “Artist Profile: Theaster Gates”

  1. Redesigning a house isn’t art, it’s called architecture. The same way “performance art” is actually called “theater”. Pioneers ride in covered wagons. “Social practice” art? Look, be an artist, or an activist, but if you want to be an activist, there are more effective ways to do this, and more ways for normal people to grasp this than art. Imagine if Ghandi or MLK were artists instead of telling people exactly how they felt? Graffiti artists make better art that is more accessible to the “everyman”. No poor person who lives on the South side of Chicago gives a rat’s ass about some guy who clads a perfectly good house with wood and fills it with books or whatever. And no, I’m not missing the point. Can this guy even draw? No. He says, “I’m not a good perspective drawer, but I can write a really good memo.” Be a bureaucrat, a designer, an architect, musician, whatever. But stop calling yourself an “artist”. I paint. I’m an artist. You are something else.

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