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Theaster Gates: Freedom of Assembly

  • Art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

New works by the Chicago-based artist.

It’s easy to accuse art of being irrelevant. Do paintings and sculptures in some white-walled gallery really matter? They have a cultural impact, yadda, yadda, but so what? Does art do anything to change the lives of average, everyday people? Probably not. But that’s not an accusation you can level at American artist Theaster Gates. He’s used his work to help redevelop impoverished parts of his native Chicago, building art spaces and cultural centres. He’s not just an artist or an activist, he’s an architect of social change through art.

His works here paint a pained picture of an America that’s locked in a state of racial turmoil. In the first room, assemblages of bricks, pallets and chunks of metal from forklifts line the walls. A dilapidated section of roofing hangs near the ceiling. Along one wall, display cabinets from a hardware store hang threadbare. Mournful music leaks out of a video piece on the floor. The impression is of a desperate need to rebuild, but a total lack of tools and materials.

In the next room, Gates has used old gym flooring to create two big beige tableaux. They’re full of the past, all those feet that have pounded that wood.

The final room is the most affecting. The walls are lined with tar-drenched canvases, and the floor is dotted with obelisk-like ceramic and tar sculptures. The smell leaves its chemical tang hanging in your nostrils. The paintings are stunning; big, gloopy, angry constructions of impenetrable black. Gates nods to modern art throughout. You can see the influence of Rothko, Brancusi or Motherwell everywhere.

Gates totally gets history – of art, of America, of civil rights. He reassembles it into damning, political works of art, which are pleas, prayers for change. Considering what’s happening in Baltimore, you won’t find much more powerful art in this city right now.

Eddy Frankel


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