press release

“How do we deal with abandonment, ruin, decay? How do we start to imagine ourselves as deeper caretakers of the things that exist in the world?” —Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates’s multifaceted practice includes sculpture, installation, performance, and architectural interventions. An important aspect of his work entails reclaiming and revitalizing abandoned buildings in neighborhoods across Chicago’s South Side. These spaces, which include Dorchester Projects and the Stony Island Arts Bank, have become catalysts for creative and cultural gatherings, and now serve as repositories for thousands of objects that the artist has collected. Taking things that have been cast aside from libraries, archives, and other collections, Gates asks us to consider what it means to invest objects with new meanings through the simple acts of conversation, conservation, creation, and care.

Assembly Hall brings a number of Gates’s collections into a museum context for the first time. The Walker’s galleries will be transformed into a total work of art that transposes several of the artist’s vast collections and studio environment into four immersive rooms, each infused with his poetic interventions. Included are selections from 60,000 slides of art/architectural history from the University of Chicago Glass Lantern Slides; books, periodicals, furniture, and other ephemera from the 15,000-piece Johnson Publishing Company Collection; a range of objects from the Ana J. and Edward J. Williams Collection of “negrobilia”; and ceramic pots and other wares that the artist has made or collected over the past decade. Taken together, these items speak to Gates’s “deep belief in the objects and histories of African American material culture” and capture moments of celebration and inspiration, exclusion and marginalization, renewal and invention.

In 2017 Gates unveiled his first permanent outdoor commission, Black Vessel for a Saint(2017), in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Composed of custom-made black bricks, the temple-like structure provides a space for gathering and reflection as well as a permanent home for a salvaged statue of Saint Laurence, the patron saint of librarians and archivists.

Curated by Victoria Sung, assistant curator, Visual Arts; with William Hernández Luege, curatorial fellow, Visual Arts.

Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall is organized by the Walker Art Center. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Martin and Brown Foundation. Additional support is provided by Deborah and John Christakos and Donna and Jim Pohlad.