The cross-disciplinary American artist Theaster Gates (b. 1973) presents a new body of work, The Minor Arts, as part of the Tower exhibition series at the National Gallery of Art
, Washington. On view in the East Building, Tower 3, from March 5 through September 4, 2017, In the Tower: Theaster Gates examines how discarded and ordinary objects acquire value through the stories we tell. It marks the artist's first solo exhibition in Washington and on the East Coast.
As with his larger projects, Gates created this exhibition out of his collections of "modern castoffs," a term he uses for materials that technology, the market, and history have left behind. The objects refer to the decline of urban institutions and traditions through their use of elements ranging from a high school gym floor to a demolished church's slate roof. Drawing from overlooked forms of craft and labor such as roofing and ceramics, the artist encourages the viewer to consider the artfulness of the everyday and gives new value to the minor and the outdated.
"Over the past decade Theaster Gates has created an impressive body of work that powerfully explores the relationships between art and life, past and present, ignored and valued," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are thrilled to have Gates as part of our tradition of presenting the works of leading contemporary artists in the East Building's Tower 3 gallery."
The Minor Arts presents an installation of new work that integrates a diverse range of materials including tar, slate, bronze, wood, clay, and marble. The installation's largest component, Slate Corridor for Possibility of Speaking in Tongues and Depositing Ghetto Reliquary (2017), is a 48-foot-wide and 20-foot-high portion of a slate roof saved from the decommissioned St. Laurence Church in Chicago. By detaching the structure from its function and repositioning it at eye level, Gates brings the unseen into our view and highlights the aesthetic qualities of the roofer's skillful work.
Also included is New Egypt Sanctuary of the Holy Word and Image (2017), a towering freestanding library with a marble floor, also from St. Laurence Church. The work memorializes archival issues of Ebony magazine, which were given by the Johnson Publishing Company to Gates's Rebuild Foundation when the publisher moved its headquarters in Chicago. Rebound by a Chicago bookbinder, the seminal periodicals chronicle African American life and culture from the 1940s through the 2000s. Additional objects include A Game of My Own (2017), comprising floorboards from a high school gym reordered into a form evoking geometric abstraction and three tar paintings, created using a technique Gates had learned as a child from his father, a roofer by profession.
Gates is the fourth living artist to be featured in the Gallery's ongoing In the Tower exhibition series, following Barbara Kruger, Kerry James Marshall, and Mel Bochner. Other artists in the series include Barnett Newman, Nam June Paik, Mark Rothko, and Philip Guston. The Tower 3 gallery is located in the I.M. Pei-designed East Building, reopened in 2016 following a three-year renovation. With more than 500 works in a range of mediums including photography, works on paper, media arts, painting, and sculpture, the East Building galleries now present a new narrative that tells a more expansive history of modern art.
The exhibition is organized by Sarah Newman, exhibition guest curator and James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum.