The first major retrospective of its kind, Young Lords and Their Traces unveils the aesthetic and intellectual lineage that’s guided artist Theaster Gates for the past two decades. Accompanied by a forthcoming monograph, the landmark exhibition encompasses a broad swath of Gates’ work and life and shows how his understandings of preservation, memory, and collective knowledge have continually evolved and manifested. In addition to vast archives, small ceramic sculptures, and his sweeping, multi-panel tar paintings, the Chicago-based artist also brings new site-specific installations to the New Museum to create communal spaces for gathering and reflection.
For the past two decades, much of Gates’ practice has revolved around shared knowledge and the idea that archiving is an act of devotion, a sentiment echoed in his transformation of a dilapidated South Side bank into a renowned art center and also throughout the exhibition. Its title pays homage to the radical, revolutionary thinkers who profoundly impacted American culture, and an entire floor is filled with references to the artist’s aesthetic and intellectual influences, including curator Okwui Enwezor and writer bell hooks. Objects like the library of the late Russian film and literature scholar Robert Bird and a tar kettle gifted by the artist’s father highlight Gates’ desire for care, conservation, and interpreting the everyday. He describes the latter as a “memorial to the history of labor and the ways in which labor is a beautiful, spiritual way of transmitting energy.”
Young Lords and Their Traces is on view through February 2, 2023, and you can pre-order the monograph on Bookshop.
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