One of the absolute best things about living in DC is having access to so many museums. Even better is getting to hear the artists, themselves, discuss their work, what it means to them, and what inspired them to create it. Today I was invited to listen to Theaster Gates talk about his new exhibition, The Minor Arts, at the National Gallery of Art.
I'm always envious of other artists that can speak eloquently about their work. Hearing Mr. Gates discuss his work was moving. I can't remember exact quotes and I wasn't taking notes, so pardon if my paraphrasing is wrong, but the gist of his work for this exhibition was the identifying the sacred in obvious (and not so obvious) places, and presenting and preserving the sacredness of those things, even when they take on other forms. He alternately framed this discussion in terms of his own personal experience of Blackness as well as other cultures he's experienced around the world.
Since it's usually forbidden, there's a certain thrill, for me anyway, when I see art touched. While Mr. Gates was explaining his work to us, he walked over to New Egypt Sanctuary of the Holy Word and Image, took down one of the books, opened it, and began to explain the significance — both on a broad, cultural level, and a personal level — of the Ebony Magazines he chose to use for the piece. They serve as historical documentation not only of the broader experience and culture of Black Americans but also as a reference point to understand the life of his mother, who passed away when he was a child.
Above: New Egypt Sanctuary of the Holy Word and Image
Below: A Game of My Own
For the piece A Game of My Own, Mr. Gates wanted reassembled pieces of an old public school gymnasium to function as a color field painting rather than a sculpture, while still preserving the wear and tear of the gymnasium floor. He framed this discussion in terms of the loss of education opportunities for Black youth and also expressed some personal conflict that results from making art created from objects which are discarded from what many people would conceive to be more noble purposes.
There's more to see, and I'm not quite sure if I've done Mr. Gates' work the justice it deserves with either my words or photos. The exhibition is on display March 5 – September 4, 2017, in the East Building, Tower - Gallery 501.