Trailer: KUB 2016.02 – Theaster Gates
23 | 04 − 26 | 06 | 2016
»For as long as I can remember the everyday things of black people have had deep resonance for me. Looking at the collections of dresses in my mother’s closet, my father’s Florsheim shoes, my best friends’ collection of ski gear, my sister’s knives—all these things form my deep understanding of the importance of everyday things. Things that are special or things that are made special because we sharpen them, we shine them, we wrap them in plastic, we care for them, despite their ordinariness. This show for me, and this moment in my career, is about teasing out these moments that allow black things their rightful place in the world. I am honored that people would trust me, not only with their objects, but with the decades of gathering, deep contemplation, and time. It’s from this place of thankfulness and reverence that I start a more critical examination of how the world sees blackness and, by extension, how the world sees me.«
Theaster Gates is an artist whose sculptures and installations refer to urban structures and historical political events. Originally Gates was an urban planner, his father a builder. Construction and transformations, urban regeneration and the reversal of power relations are his subject matter.
In Bregenz, Theaster Gates is showing his collection of “Negrobilia” for the first time. For several years he has been acquiring historical figures depicting Afro-Americans in a stereotypical manner: as devoted servants, friendly mamas, and dancing slaves; with protruding lips, curly hair, and ample behinds.
The Dancing Minstrel is a racist figure originating from 19th century burlesque revues. Gates has enlarged his own version to more than four meters high. It dangles from the ceiling. In order to see this interactive sculpture moving and dancing, the visitors themselves have to dance, setting the spring that balances it in motion, and forcing viewers and dancers to confront the awkwardness of fetish and amusement that comes when such images are made public.
On the ground floor a video of Shirley Temple from 1935 that Gates has re-edited, is being screened. At the age of six the curly blonde child star received the Juvenile Award, an Oscar for child actors. In a famous scene from the film The Littlest Rebel, Uncle Billy, played by the black actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson dances on a flight of stairs, the white girl imitating his virtuoso footsteps. In another one they both tap dance on the street to earn money.
A statue of St. Lawrence is on display on the first floor. The figure was rescued from an abandoned church, located next to Gates’ studio in Chicago. In addition Gates is also showing several tar works partly incorporating shingles and unworked roofing materials.
For Kunsthaus Bregenz, Theaster Gates has blown up the tiny neckless figure Tar Baby to a hugely oversized work. The head, re-carved and painted black, is lying on its cheek on the third floor of the Zumthor building. The pattern of the embroidery is transcribed to a carpet, functioning as floor, plinth, and frame. It addresses issues of what being black means and the forms and associations that have been attributed and continue to be attributed to it by whites.
Once more Theaster Gates succeeds in transporting a centuries long American subject into issues currently relevant to Europe.
Trailer and Educational Film