“A Flag for the Least of Them” (2018) by Theaster Gates


CHICAGO-BASED ARTIST Theaster Gates is now represented by Gagosian gallery. Over the past decade, Gates has gained global renown for his unique social practice focused on preservation, restoration, and archiving. Constantly traveling, he has captivated the international art world with his vision for transforming communities through neighborhood development and cultural and social engagement.

He joins Gagosian with an eye toward making more work. Trained in ceramics, urban planning and religious studies, his studio practice spans sculpture, paintings, sound and performance.

In 2010, Gates established the Rebuild Foundation as “a platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation.” From that base, he has activated dormant buildings, creating spaces for arts programming, cultural studies, and community gathering and inaugurated a menu of projects, initiatives, and workforce opportunities.

The foundation is housed at the Stony Island Arts Bank, a historic bank he renovated on the South Side of Chicago. The building features exhibition space, where “Iconic: Black Panther” is currently on view, and is also home to several collections—the Johnson Publishing Archive, Frankie Knuckles Records, University of Chicago Glass Lantern Slides, and the Edward J. Williams Collection of “negrobilia.”

His latest exhibition, “The Black Image Corporation,” is currently on view at the Prada Foundation in Milan through Jan. 14, 2019. The presentation explores the Johnson archive, focusing specifically on the work of two photographers—Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. Johnson Publishing created two publications—Ebony and Jet magazines—whose images documented the black experience and provided a lens through which standards of beauty, aesthetics, and African American identity were shaped.

Describing the exhibition, Gates said, “I hope to tease out the creation of female iconic moments by Sleet and Sutton and also offer small forays into the lives of everyday people through never-before-seen images from the Johnson Collection. The archives speak about beauty and black female power.”


Installation view of “The Black Image Corporation,” a project by Theaster Gates, Prada Foundation, Milan, Italy. | Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti


Transparencies featuring images by Moneta Sleet Jr., from the exhibiiton “The Black Image Corporation.” | Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC. All rights reserved.


Gates maintains a busy schedule, participating in conversations and residencies, winning awards, mounting exhibitions, embarking on building projects, and maintaining roles at the University of Chicago.

His latest endeavor is a collaboration with British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye and musician and activist Bono, who is organizing his third (RED) auction. The artist and architect are co-curating the sale to benefit the fight against AIDS. Artists and designers, including Gates and Adjaye, have donated 35 lots. Gates contributed “A Flag for the Least of Them,” a new work composed of decommissioned fire hoses. He has made a number of the works over the years.

“One of the signature works of my career has been this civil rights tapestry,” Gates said. “It’s these discontinued fire hoses that is a reminder of the truth of tough moments in the United States. Bull Connor and his war brigade turning these hoses on protestors. I just put this tapestry in as a way of not forgetting there is still work to do.” Sponsored by Sotheby’s and Gagosian, the auction is Dec. 5 in Miami.

The Gagosian announcement said the Gates intends to focus more on his studio practice: “After a period of intense activity and reflection, [Theaster] Gates has declared his desire to focus more intently on his own oeuvre and the artworks that come out of his explorations of value, economy, and material exchange in charged social contexts.”

“After a period of intense activity and reflection, [Theaster] Gates has declared his desire to focus more intently on his own oeuvre and the artworks that come out of his explorations of value, economy, and material exchange in charged social contexts.” — Gagosian

The relationship with Gagosian marks his first affiliation with a New York gallery. He continues to be represented by Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago, Regen Projects in Los Angeles, and London’s White Cube gallery. His first exhibition with Gagosian in New York is expected to open in spring 2020. CT


IMAGES: Top of page, Lot 12: THEASTER GATES, “A Flag for the Least of Them,” 2018 (decommissioned fire hose). | Estimate $450,000-$500,000. Sold for $807,000 (including fees) RECORD; Top left, Theaster Gates. | Courtesy Kunsthaus Bregenz


UPDATED (12/06/18): Auction results added


Two volumes documenting Theaster Gates’s exhibitions have been published this year. “Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum” coincides with his presentation at Art Gallery Ontario, and “Theaster Gatees: Black Archive” complements his exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Bregenz, Austria. The catalog accompanying “The Black Image Corporation” at the Prada Foundation in Milan, Italy, is forthcoming.


Theaster Gates explains his vision for “The Black Image Corporation,” his exhibition currently on view in Milan, Italy. | Video by Prada Foundation


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