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Visual Arts

Ten Ways to Study Up on Sculptor Theaster Gates’ Mode of Social Practice Before Nasher Prize Weekend

Exciting art history scholars come together Thursday to preface Gates' appearance at the museum.
By Darryl Ratcliff |
Peter Hoffman

The Nasher Sculpture Center has a packed weekend scheduled for Theaster Gates, the bold Chicago artist whose place-based approach earned him the title of Nasher Prize Laureate and a corresponding $100,000 award. He became the first American and the first black person to receive the honor. This week Gates will be given the money at a ceremony; he plans to publish poetry— his own, and some by other poets— with the funds. 

Perhaps the most underrated event of the stretch comes Thursday with the Graduate Symposium, which is free with RSVP. Some of the brightest masters and doctoral art history students across the country will share ideas on ethics in social practice, the artist’s role in community rebuilding, and black bodies in performance art, among other themes related to Gates’ work.

Matthew Jesse Jackson is the keynote speaker. Jackson previously collaborated with Gates as a contributor to the 2012 publication 12 Ballads for Huguenot House about the artist’s work dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany. Jackson is Associate Professor of Art History, Visual Arts, and the College of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Chicago.

The Graduate Symposium will be moderated by SMU curatorial fellow Sofia Bastidas. Honestly, this is an embarrassment of intellectual riches, as either Bastidas or Jackson would be worth attendance alone. And yet, we have the five scholars.

In the spirit of conversations like Thursday’s and one to follow Friday with a Town Hall at the Wyly Theatre featuring local artists (including myself), leaders, and Gates himself, here’s an introduction to the voices featured at the symposium:

You can find writing by Oxford University’s Victoria Sung on subjects like gender, jazz, finding the soul in abstract work and more at Walker Reader.

Zoma Wallace, from the Institute for Doctoral Studies of the Visual Arts, wrote this piece on Dr. David Driskell, for whom the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland is named.

Allison Vanouse of Boston University reflected on the relationship between art, theater and performance for Big Red and Shiny.

Learn about Kimberly Jacobs’ curatorial interests, spirituality and urban theory among them, at her website. She studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Patricia Stout, who has work forthcoming from the University of Texas at Dallas, rounds out the group.


Here’s more on Gates and his work:

Danielle Avram interviewed Gates for the Dallas Morning News last week.

This recap of Gates’ appearance at Tulane to speak on the intersection of social justice and architecture offers a preview of this week’s collaborative lectures.

The New York Times leads a tour of Gates’ National Gallery exhibition The Minor Arts.

Art21 visited the artist’s studio last year.

Smithsonian Magazine did a comprehensive piece on how Gates nurtured Chicago’s South Side neighborhood.

Look through some of Gates’ recent work at White Cube.



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