To Dream, to Collect

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Artist and archivist Theaster Gates will explore the cult of the Black Madonna across two venues of the Kunstmuseum in Basel. Turning two floors of the museum into a space of creative production, Gates has set up a temporary sound studio and printing workshop where live performances and interventions by the artist will take place.

Opening on 12th June, the first week of the exhibition will see Gates’ musical collective The Black Monks of Mississippi (Yaw Agyeman, Mikel Avery, Justin Dillard, Ben Lamar Gay, Kiara Lanier) perform nightly in the space, in collaboration with local group Jazzcampus Basel, and cut live sessions direct-to-vinyl with the VF lathe.

The creative practice of Theaster Gates (b. 1973) ranges from urban interventions and performance pieces to pottery. He is the lead singer of the band The Black Monks of Mississippi and has been appointed the first distinguished visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art, which is part of the Colby College Museum of Art. His work continually aims to bridge the gulf between art and society and establish cultural communities as a way of initiating social, political, architectural, and urban change.

 

Theaster Gates, Black Madonna, Kunstmuseum, Basel. Courtesy The Vinyl Factory
Theaster Gates, Black Madonna, Kunstmuseum, Basel. Courtesy The Vinyl Factory

 

 

Nástio Mosquito, Template Temples of Tenacity, in collaboration with Theater Gates. Courtesy Fondazione Prada
Nástio Mosquito, Template Temples of Tenacity, in collaboration with Theater Gates. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

 

At the 2013 Art Basel, he presented 100 marble slabs from the bathrooms of a bank building slated for demolition that he had inscribed with the words «In Art We Trust»; transformed into bank bonds, they helped raise funding for the Stony Island Arts Bank cultural center. Since then Gates has widely been recognized as a leading voice in contemporary art. The artist sees himself as a collector of collections and archives, especially of America’s black culture. He is especially interested in forgotten objects, images, and themes, which he integrates into his own creative practice. As a collector of marginalized and obscure archives, Gates will join the Kunstmuseum Basel in a critical engagement with the museum’s Eurocentric collection that will broach fundamental questions concerning its spatial and organizational structures.

In his exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, which will be spread out across two of the museum’s venues, Gates will explore the cult of the Black Madonna, examining both its significance in the history of religion and its aesthetic and metaphorical tenor.

The presentation at the Kunstmuseum Basel new building will showcase his work, some of it created specifically for the occasion. He will also build a shrine of sorts to the Black Madonna that will enter into a critical dialogue with the venue’s architecture and the art in the collections. The making of objects, Gates argues, is always also a social intervention, since the spheres of the artistic and political agency are inextricably interconnected. By contrast, the installation at the Kunstmuseum Basel Gegenwart will turn the museum space into a site of creative production. The artist will set up a temporary sound studio and printing workshop, where he will work with his personal archives, with a focus on the photography archives of Ebonyand Jet Magazine, two iconic publications that have been vital media of black culture in America.

 

Theaster Gates, Black Madonna, Kunstmuseum, Basel. Courtesy The Vinyl Factory
Theaster Gates, Black Madonna, Kunstmuseum, Basel. Courtesy The Vinyl Factory

 

For his time in Basel, he has drawn up an extensive program of events that will activate the exhibition as a platform for contemplation, concerts, research, and public debates. Expanding beyond the Kunstmuseum, he will also launch joint projects with other local institutions including Jazzcampus Basel, the Basler Papiermühle—Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing, and the Basler Münster.

Indeed, Gates is also releasing a special limited edition EP with The Black Monks to accompany the exhibition and inaugurate his new Black Madonna Press label, realized in collaboration with The Vinyl Factory. Listen to the Sun Ra-esque, improvised synths of ‘Brother From Another Planet’ below. The second iteration of Theastre Gates’ Black Madonna will see 13,000 of almost 4 million images from the Johnson Publishing Company (that has documented and published magazines on Black culture and achievement since 1942) displayed at Kunstmuseum’s Neubau in Basel, creating his own rendition of the Black Madonna archive through early images from the already mentioned Ebonyand Jet Magazine. Theaster Gates & The Black Monks Of Mississippi’s Black Madonna EP is out now and available via The Vinyl Factory website, if you need more information don't miss to read the article written by Anton Spiece for Vinyl Factory Limited, you will also find Theaster Gates discuss the exhibition in more detail. The exhibition runs until 21st October 2018 at Kunstmuseum Basel | Neubau & Gegenwart.

 

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the artworld.

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