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Theaster Gates

Photo by Sara Pooley

Chicago, United States


Theaster Gates’s work utilizes sculpture and performance to explore space theory and land development. Drawing on his interest and training in urban planning and preservation, Gates redeems spaces that have been left behind, upturning art values, land values, and human values. In all aspects of his work, he contends with the notion of black space as a formal exercise—one defined by collective desire, artistic agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist. Gates has exhibited and performed at Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2017); Fondazione Prada, Milan (2016); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013); Documenta 13 (2012); Gropius Bau, Berlin (2019); and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2019). He was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2017 and has also received the Artes Mundi 6 prize, the Nasher Prize for Sculpture, and the Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development.

CAB 3 Contribution

Project Overview

Landed: Gates et al., 2019 Wooden desks, legal documents, letterpress and digital prints, video Theaster Gates would like to acknowledge the generous support of: Chris Strong, Dan Wang, JNL Graphic Design, Karly Kainz Knight Foundation, Parallax Film Productions, Rebuild Foundation, Sierra Brown, The Chicago Public Library, The City of Chicago, The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago, Theaster Gates Studio, The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, Yaw Agyeman

German-born artist Hans Haacke’s groundbreaking work Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1,1971 (1971) chronicled one of New York’s most disreputable real estate owners to demonstrate the daunting complexity of land acquisition and ownership, and the power dynamics that determine the fate of our cities. Landed: Gates et al. brings the project into the twenty-first century, offering a focused glimpse of artist Theaster Gates’s real estate acquisition history. It reveals one person’s deep interrogation of land neglect, perceived value, and government bias when it comes to Black space. Drawing on his training in urban planning and preservation, Gates restores and activates abandoned buildings and vacant land to demonstrate the potential political power in seemingly underresourced communities. Within one decade he has acquired more than thirty-five buildings in Black communities across three cities. The buildings, in varying states of repair, include a school, a bank, houses, industrial and warehouse space, gardens, and flexible-use spaces. The photographs, videos, artifacts, printed posters, and legal documents presented here highlight the role of language in shaping a place, and the power that artists, urbanists, and everyday citizens can acquire through learning the legal language of land.

The City is the Site