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Theaster Gates: Black Vessel

Gagosian is pleased to present Black Vessel, Theaster Gates’s first ever solo exhibition in New York following his inclusion in the Whitney Biennial one decade ago. Gates’s approach to artmaking is as protean as it is spiritual and political. He works across diverse media and mixes the exchange, renewal, and restoration of objects with ideas of shared experience. Gates will transform Gagosian’s 24th Street galleries inside and out. The installation will explore the concept of the vessel both as a metaphor for embodied existence and as a means of gathering artworks and communities in time and space. One of his most ambitious exhibitions to date, Black Vessel will feature several new bodies of work that Gates produced in his Chicago studio during 2020, including caged hoses, tar paintings, and ceramic vessels, as well as poem works.

THEASTER GATES Flag Sketch, 2020, detail Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 72 x 72 in 182.9 x 182.9 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian
THEASTER GATES Flag Sketch, 2020, detail Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 72 x 72 in 182.9 x 182.9 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian

Gates’s oeuvre is among the most conceptually and materially rich in contemporary art, anchored equally in the canons of art history and the racial ideology of the Black diaspora. Through an art practice predicated on cultural reclamation and social empowerment, Gates exchanges and recharges objects and ideas, creating a cyclical ecosystem of renewal. Traversing a broad range of media, from painting, sculpture, sound, and performance to the processes of salvaging, archiving, and space making, he delivers penetrating social commentary on labor, material, spiritual capital, and commodity, within a close examination of the urban condition.

THEASTER GATES Six Squares Yellow Patch, 2020 Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 72 x 108 in 182.9 x 274.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian
THEASTER GATES Six Squares Yellow Patch, 2020 Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 72 x 108 in 182.9 x 274.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian

Inspired by his father’s occupation as a roofer, in 2012 Gates began fusing together sections of torch down and finishing the resulting compositions with enamel paint and tar. For Black Vessel, he has produced a suite of “tar paintings” on a newly imposing scale, some in modulated white, others blocked out in bold, contrasting colors. Just as postwar artists set themselves apart from gestural abstraction by utilizing mass-produced industrial materials and techniques in place of paint and canvas, Gates has imbued abstract painting with new form and meaning, first with the Civil Tapestries that charge Minimalist language with the stuff of racial injustice, and now in raw, elegant, and powerful works that employ the signifying materials and labor methodologies of rigorous building technology.

THEASTER GATES Top Heavy, 2020 Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 108 x 108 in 274.3 x 274.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian
THEASTER GATES Top Heavy, 2020 Industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper 108 x 108 in 274.3 x 274.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Jacob Hand Courtesy Gagosian

Throughout his career, Gates has rescued vast collections of Black cultural artifacts—music, books, images, photographs—housing them in restored and repurposed buildings in Chicago, or setting them in circulation throughout the world’s museums. For the Spine works, of which Walking Prayer (2018) is a key example, Gates took periodicals from the legendary Black-owned Johnson Publishing Company—which produced such magazines as Negro Digest (later named Black World) to promote and celebrate Black life—bound them into volumes, and arranged them side by side on running shelves. From one spine to the next, and the next, gilt-embossed titles form a hallowed and poetic invocation, thus proposing the library as a processional and meditative tool and the gallery as a latent warehouse of emotional and spiritual devices.

Theaster Gates: Black Vessel October 10th – December 19th, 2020 555 West 24th Street, New York

THEASTER GATES Vessel # 2, 2020 High fired stoneware with glaze 34 x 21 x 21 in 86.4 x 53.3 x 53.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Chris Strong Courtesy Gagosian
THEASTER GATES Vessel # 2, 2020 High fired stoneware with glaze 34 x 21 x 21 in 86.4 x 53.3 x 53.3 cm © Theaster Gates Photo: Chris Strong Courtesy Gagosian

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