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Cosmology of Yard, 2010, installation with reclaimed ware boards. Installation view, Whitney Biennial, New York. Both images courtesy the artist and Kavi Gupta Chicago/Berlin
Theaster Gates is viral. In 2011 — the year Gates ‘broke’ — the ground for socially engaged work shifted in the US. One critic lauded Gates for providing contemporary art with sorely lacking purpose, and Jeffrey Deitch, contemporary art’s greatest pitchman, got to talking with him about art and real life on Mercedes-Benz TV.1 The ground-shift followed a year in which Gates was seemingly everywhere, with unabashed earnestness, re-framing conversations regarding ‘potent’ exchanges involving the market, arts institutions and disadvantaged communities with everyone he spoke to — curators, dealers, collectors, art students, architects, city planners, cultural philanthropists, gospel choirs and so many others in earshot. It’s become difficult to find a place he isn’t.
It is hard not to be consumed by the heat surrounding Gates’s practice, or to anticipate some inevitable backlash due to the pace of his international ascension. In person, his sincerity and brashness are disarming; Gates is possessed with an emphatic charisma. His particular magnetism moves fluidly between the seemingly polar spheres of his practice: African-American neighbourhoods and communities in the Midwestern United States, where he is deeply invested in site-specific cultural transformations, and exhibitions across the international art world, with major upcoming projects at both dOCUMENTA (13) and the cavernous new White Cube space in the London area of Bermondsey. Perhaps not fully at home, and certainly not contained, in either sphere, Gates’s work could hold import for the future of both worlds.
Gates is uncannily open about the relationship of his work to the market, and about his strategies to translate the work's market value into impact on places beyond the art world. His efforts to reanimate abandoned properties for new