Whitechapel Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Serpentine have jointly announced a multi-venue presentation dedicated to artist Theaster Gates’s (b.1973, USA) clay practice for 2021-22. The programme features a major solo exhibition of the artist’s clay-based work, collection displays and new commissions.
This ambitious collaboration is led by Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition, Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon, opening on 29th September 2021. Here Gates’s transformation of clay– from geological substance into utilitarian and artistic material – stands as a powerful metaphor for his socially-engaged work and wider artistic practice. Featuring ceramic objects, sculptures, installations, film and studio materials from -the past two decades, this in-depth exploration from the critically acclaimed artist considers the material and spiritual legacies of clay.
The research for these projects has been developed in conjunction with the V&A South Kensington and V&A East, where Gates has been Emeritus Fellow at the V&A Research Institute (VARI). He has been working with its ceramic collections to examine the relationship between Eastern and Western aesthetic practices and political histories within craft. An intervention in the V&A’s Ceramics galleries opens this autumn.
Gates will also conceive the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion, the Serpentine’s annual architectural commission and platform for live summer programmes.
The exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery will begin with a survey of the artist’s clay works from examples of his early ceramic production to ‘Afro-Mingei’ sculptures and large vessels – alongside examples by those who have shaped Gates’s approach to clay. They include David Drake, an enslaved African American potter who worked on a plantation in South Carolina. Drake wrote poems and signed his stoneware pots when literacy among enslaved people was outlawed. The exhibition also includes potters who exchanged traditions from different cultural contexts, such as Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, who established the influential Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall in 1920, and Ruth Duckworth, who fled the Nazi regime, studied in the UK and made her mark with monumental stoneware murals in Chicago. Working in partnership with the V&A and drawing from other public and private collections, Gates has selected a number of historic objects for his Whitechapel Gallery exhibition that speak to the significance of ceramics in global trade, colonial expansion, slavery and?abolitionism?in the UK.
Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon further includes a new film by Gates and his most recent body of work: large stoneware vessels installed on custom-made plinths of hand-milled wood and stone. Their forms derive from a range of sources, including African sculpture, the human body and industrial and utilitarian objects.
“Clay has been foundational to Theaster Gates’s intertwined artistic and social practices, bringing together research, ideas, process and production. His interests and investigations span clay mineralogy, industrial and studio pottery production, the use of clay in teaching and community building, and the ceremonial and ritual use of ceramics.’ The exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery explores Gates’s work with clay, his affinities with potters internationally and the relationships among his various studio, social engagement and urban regeneration projects.”Lydia Yee, Chief Curator, Whitechapel Gallery
Theaster Gates: A Clay Sermon 29th September 2021 – 9th January 2022 Galleries 1, 8 & 9 | Free Entry
About the Artist
Theaster Gates (b.1973) lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates work that focuses on space theory and land development, sculpture and performance. 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. Clay has been central to Gates’s practice since earning an MA in urban planning and ceramics at Iowa State University in 1996 and subsequently studying pottery in?Tokoname, Japan. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and the Harris School of Public Policy and serves as the Senior Advisor for Cultural Innovation and Advisor to the Dean. He has recently exhibited and performed at TANK Shanghai, Shanghai, China (2021); Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai, China (2021); Tate Liverpool (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016) and Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013). Gates has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Arts Mundi 6 Prize (2017); the Légion d’Honneur (2017); the Nasher Prize for Sculpture (2018); the Urban Land Institute, J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development (2018); the World Economic Forum Crystal Award (2020); and an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2021). Gates was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021.