We saw Theaster Gates speak at the Tate Modern on Monday night. He was inspiring and fun, conceptual and down to earth, challenging the space, the institution and his hosts at the Tate in the first few minutes.
Gates spoke about the responsibility of being entrusted with space, the way objects change in value depending on assembly, and the classism around arts media – why shouldn’t tar be added to the canon? Theaster’s dad was a roofer and a lot of his work draws on this knowledge: ‘roofing was my art class…not only will I make do but I will trump.’
Gates also spoke about the value that artists can bring to the development of a place. They should be at the table with legislators, architects, planners and urbanists. With the challenges we currently face in places like Brixton, we can learn a lot from his work in southside Chicago where he’s bought up large parts of the city, improved living conditions and capped rents.
Throughout his presentation, Theaster kept coming back to the first amendment of the US constitution: that people have the right to assemble and to form associations without interference. The multiple meanings of the amendment show how his art practice and his politics intersect. The Black Artist Retreat which he convenes is a good example of this – he decided to pull together a group of people in a format that didn’t exist. Indeed, you may have to create the format in order to create the effect.
We’re converts. ROCK ON.