Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, Jr. has reached out to area craftspeople and the African-American community to reinterpret for the present day the legacy of Dave Drake, a slave in antebellum South Carolina who famously adorned his pots with poetic couplets. The installation, titled To Speculate Darkly, will transform the Milwaukee Art Museum
s Decorative Arts Gallery from April 16 through August 1, 2010, into an engaging exploration into the significance of craft labor and race in America.
To Speculate Darkly juxtaposes the uniquely spectacular pots of Dave Drake, known as Dave the Potter, with a built environment comprised of a glass lantern slide tunnel, ceramic speakers, and vessels created by Theaster Gates Jr. Race, craft, and labor are at the center of my work on Dave the Potter, says the artist. Recently selected to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Gates is a potter, musician, and performance artist who has earned national acclaim for his intelligent commentaries on race, the city, and the museum. As the show was starting in Wisconsin, I wanted Daves story to engage both craftsmen and the African-American community of Milwaukee. To do this, I worked closely with the Kohler Manufacturing Company and several African-American churcheswith Greater New Birth Church being our most amazing collaborator. The ambition of To Speculate Darkly is twofold: to amplify the life and work of Dave the Potter and to ask new questions about the function of craft objects in contemporary art practice.
The installation will feature a music component as well, giving a resounding voice to Dave the Potter and, by extension, craftspeople working today. Drawing on the relationship Gates has created with Daves persona, the artist arranged Daves poems to music and engaged a local, two-hundred-person Milwaukee church choir to perform a captivating sound piece. The choir will perform live during the MAM After Dark event that shares the exhibitions opening on Friday, April 16.
To Speculate Darkly reinterprets a section of art history that is often ignored. Through this work, Theaster Gates, Jr. reaches out to a wide and diverse audience by making the artwork contemporary and accessible, as well as creating a space where conversations can take place.