Using Discards to Build Art (and Rebuild a City)

Using Discards to Build Art (and Rebuild a City)

The Chicago artist Theaster Gates, who has a new show at the National
Gallery, makes works from castoff objects, revitalizing his neighborhood
with their sale.

CHICAGO – “It’s a super-interesting moment to be at the National Gallery,
where the question of what it means to be an American, and what kind of
American are you, has a new kind of resonance,” said Theaster Gates, the
sculptor, installation and performance artist and urban interventionist,
whose exhibition “The Minor Arts” opened there this month in Washington.

Mr. Gates has taken materials he salvaged from shuttered African-American
businesses, schools and churches on the South Side of Chicago, where he is
based, into a tower gallery in the museum’s East Building. There, he has
reconstituted slate shingles from a roof, wooden planks from a gym floor and
bound copies of Ebony magazine into monumental structures that echo abstract
canvases elsewhere in the institution, but are embedded with unsung stories
of black laborers and entrepreneurs.

This highly visible platform at the National Gallery of Art, which attracts
more than five million visitors annually, shines a light on Mr. Gates’s
mushrooming grass-roots revitalization project on Chicago’s South Side,
which invests in people and places others have written off.

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