Theaster Gates is featured in “Firsthand: Coronavirus,” a series from Chicago’s PBS affiliate. | Video by WTTW


TRAVELING THE GLOBE is a constant in the life of artist Theaster Gates. His schedule of exhibitions, talks, lectures, and projects is unrelenting. Gates has a diverse portfolio. In his bio, he states that his practice “focuses on space theory and land development, sculpture and performance.” He captivates international audiences and partners with his vision for revitalizing communities by transforming abandoned buildings into vibrant cultural spaces and artworks that explore race, representation, and social history.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, his routine changed abruptly. He’s grounded in Chicago, where he lives and works, where he was born and shaped his practice. Museums and galleries in the city are closed. Stony Island Arts Bank, the hub of his work, where his Rebuild Foundation is housed, is closed, too.

Retreating to his South Side studio, Gates is making new works and also helping out. When he learned from his friend Jared Freedman, brand director for Citizens of Humanity, that the company was pivoting from making jeans to producing face masks, Gates says he directed a supply to the employees of the Chicago Food Depository, the local food bank.

Gates is featured on “Firsthand: Coronavirus,” a series produced by WTTW, the Chicago affiliate of PBS. In the episode, Gates shares how he has been adapting.

“When it became evident that this virus was going to have a significant impact, it meant that I was going to have to shift significantly how I work and I knew I wanted to spend a portion of that time being selfish and enjoying the isolation,” he says. “In a way, my studio is a second home. It has all the things that excite my imagination. But the other part felt like I would also have to figure out how I could be of service.”

Gates also participated in the Hirshhorn Museum’s Artist Diaries project, an effort to document and archive the responses of artists to the pandemic.

“When it became evident that this virus was going to have a significant impact, it meant that I was going to have to shift significantly how I work and I knew I wanted to spend a portion of that time being selfish and enjoying the isolation.” — Theaster Gates

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden is collecting Artist Diaries, asking Theaster Gates and other artists to document their responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Gates contributed a three-part diary. Here are installments two and three. | Video by Hirshhorn Museum


BEFORE HE SLOWED DOWN, Gates was all over the map. In January, he picked up a 2020 Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall” was on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minn., through Jan. 12.

His current exhibitions, “Theaster Gates: Black Chapel” (Oct. 25, 2019-July 19, 2020) at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, Germany, “Theaster Gates: Imalgum” at the Tate Liverpool in the UK (Dec. 13, 2019-May 3, 2020), and “Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” (Jan. 28-May 16, 2020) at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, are all temporarily closed, with institutions across continents having shuttered to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In June, his first solo exhibition in China is scheduled to open at TANK Shanghai, a new art center where a series of decommissioned aviation fuel tanks have been converted into exhibition spaces. Gates has envisioned a nexus of art, music, and neon lights. “Bad Neon” will transform one of the massive structures at TANK Shanghai into a roller skating rink.

In the meantime, Gates is focusing on the people he cares about, working on his pottery (the first of his three degrees was a B.S. in urban planning and ceramics from Iowa State University), and staying close to home for now. It’s a profound change of pace.

Interestingly, the artist’s latest project is an Apple TV+ show called “Home.” Gates is the subject of an episode in the new docuseries about “the groundbreaking ideas and inspiring stories behind the world’s most imaginative dwellings.”

In the trailer, Gates says, “One of the unexpected byproducts of believing in my neighborhood is that it has allowed me to feel safe, free, and home.” CT


Works by Theaster Gates and Ibrahim Mahama are on view in “Encounter – K11 Musea X White Cube,” at K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong (March 17-May 31, 2020). Check directly with the museum for updated scheduling


FIND MORE about Theaster Gates on his website

FIND MORE about the music of Theaster Gates here, here, and here via Vinyl Factory


Theaster Gates provides an overview of “Black Chapel” (Oct. 25, 2019-July 19, 2020), his exhibition at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, Germany. | Video by Haus der Kunst


New volumes include “Theaster Gates: Every Square Needs a Circle” and the exhibition catalog “Theaster Gates: Black Madonna” A loose-leaf volume housed in a custom box, “The Black Image Corporation” documents the exhibition that originated at the Prada Foundation in Milan, Italy, and is currently displayed at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. “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.


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