KERA Arts Story Search

Looking for events? Click here for the Go See DFW events calendar.

Theaster Gates Named First American And First African-American Winner Of The Nasher Sculpture Prize

by Jerome Weeks 19 Sep 2017 9:04 PM

The Chicago native is known for expanding sculpture from pottery to repurposing entire buildings and turning them into civic projects to serve his South Side neighborhood.



Theaster Gates, the Chicago-born clay-potter-turned-large-scale-installation-artist, is the first American and the first African-American to win the Nasher Prize. The $100,000 annual award from the Nasher Sculpture Center is the largest international prize devoted entirely to sculpture. Previous winners were the Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo and French artist Pierre Huyghe.

Gates’ ambitious works have expanded beyond traditional definitions of sculpture, incorporating repurposed materials into urban planning, rebuilding African-American cinemas and city projects, turning them into cultural institutions for the underserved South Side of Chicago. The 44-year-old Gates has also used performance and conceptual art to create such things as a soul food dinner party as well as making sculptures out of fire hoses and old issues of ‘Ebony’ magazine. His works are in museums around the world from New York to Bristol, England.

“He calls himself a potter,” says Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, “but his work goes beyond that, and there can be a deeply personal aspect to his art. He takes over buildings and rebuilds their interiors and facades and creates social spaces, places that bring together the community.”  As for the personal aspect, Strick cites Gates’ father’s career as a roofer. When he retired, he gave his son his tar pot, and Theaster Gates asked his father to help him make a series of “tar paintings” in 2015.

In short, like the other Nasher winners so far, Gates still uses objects in his sculptural practice but moves beyond simple items to entire installations – with a socio-political and historical frame of reference.

Theaster Gates announcement

Jeremy Strick announcing the 2018 Nasher Prize laureate at the Rachofsky Warehouse Tuesday evening.

The Nasher does not own a Theaster Gates work in its collection but is planning “a presentation of some work” by Gates, Strick says, for when the artist receives the award in Dallas April 7, 2018.

According to The New York Times, Gates intends to use the prize money to acquire a Heidelberg windmill printing press from Boswell, Ind., and bring it to Chicago to establish his own publishing imprint. He plans on releasing works written by himself and other poets.

See the short  Art21 documentary on Theaster Gates from June of this year. The image up top and outfront are from the Art21 video.

And here’s the Nasher’s full release:

Nasher Sculpture Center Announces Theaster Gates as Winner of the 2018 Nasher Prize

American Artist Receives $100,000 in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Sculpture

Dallas, TX (September 19, 2017) – The Nasher Sculpture Center announces American artist Theaster Gates as the recipient of the 2018 Nasher Prize. In its third year, the Nasher Prize is the most ambitious international award in sculpture, established to honor a living artist who elevates the understanding of sculpture and its possibilities. Theaster Gates maintains an artistic practice that incorporates sculpture, painting, music, performance, architecture, urban planning, and social engagement. His projects cull from the material history of a place—physical, political, or cultural—in order to manifest a work that speaks to both the artist’s personal narrative and to the particular story of a building, a site, an object, or a people. As such, Gates’ method of using architecture, music, extant archives, and human interaction as material for his work creates dynamic ecosystems wherein everything—from the objects that he creates to the orchestrated exchange of ideas within communal space—is part of his sculptural practice.

Theaster Gates has expanded the definition of a sculptor through critical investigations of art history, memory, and materiality. Earning a B.S. from Iowa State University in ceramics and urban planning, Gates began his art career as a potter. He fuses a traditional sculptural training with materials that reify, archive, and memorialize the black American experience. From his conceptual soul food dinner party at Hyde Park Art Center in 2007 for which the artist introduced narrative to his pottery, to the debut of tar paintings at White Cube in 2015, to his deployment of archives that index the cultural history of the Black American experience, the artist elevates and expands the powerful tradition of object-making.

Theaster Gates was selected for his remarkable work by an international jury of museum directors, curators, artists, and art historians who demonstrate unparalleled expertise in the field of sculpture. Gates will be presented with an award designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Nasher Sculpture Center, at a ceremony in Dallas on April 7, 2018.

“Sculpture is a way to move between materials—to fight with materials. This movement between materials and modes of making is what I want to spend my time doing. My work’s aim is to pay attention to a thing that has not had attention paid to it in a long time,” says Theaster Gates.

“It is an honor for us to award the 2018 Nasher Prize to Theaster Gates, an artist who engages such a range of tools and methods in his practice, generating intricate networks of relationship between objects, spaces, people, and memory,” says Nasher Sculpture Center Director Jeremy Strick. “His work has powerfully influenced the way we understand the vital role of sculpture within culture and daily life, and we look forward to seeing his unparalleled innovation and charismatic imagination play out in the years to come.”

The 2017 Nasher Prize jurors are: Phyllida Barlow, artist; Huma Bhabha, artist; Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim Curator at Large, Latin America; Lynne Cooke, Senior Curator, National Gallery of Art; Okwui Enwezor, Director, Haus der Kunst; Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT); Hou Hanru, Artistic Director, MAXXI, Rome; Alexander Potts, art historian; and Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of the Arts Council England.

“It was important to this year’s jury to select a winner that reflects the agenda of today’s artistic production in terms of its originality, in terms of its relevance, and in terms of its interaction with how the society needs an aesthetic dimension in the social life,” says Nasher Prize juror, Hou Hanru. “Theaster Gates demonstrates how an artist can take on an incredibly strong social responsibility and translate it into, on the one hand, a social action, and on the other hand, a really extraordinary artistic project that is consisting of architecture, intervention, social organization, and also the production of beautiful objects. And Gates has incredible consistency—in action, vision and production. He is an artist that opens a new window into life, and is an artist living plainly with the openness of the self—an exceptional quality.”

In conjunction with the Nasher Prize, the Nasher Sculpture Center annually presents a series of public programs exploring the climate of contemporary sculpture. This year, the Nasher Prize Dialogues will occur in Chicago, Paris, Glasgow, and Dallas. Interdisciplinary luminaries will summit to discuss the most compelling topics regarding contemporary sculpture. By galvanizing international discourse, Nasher Prize Dialogues are an apt extension of the Nasher Prize’s mission to advocate for and advance a vital contemporary art form.

The Nasher Prize is generously co-chaired by Christen and Derek Wilson. They have helped garner support for the prize and its attendant programs, including the Nasher Prize Dialogues.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is the presenting sponsor of the Nasher Prize. Founding Partners of the Nasher Prize are The Eugene McDermott Foundation and Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger. Media sponsors are Belo Media Group, KERA’s Art & Seek, and PaperCity.

About Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates was born in 1973 in Chicago, where he lives and works. He has exhibited widely, including group exhibitions such as the Whitney Biennial, New York (2010); dOCUMENTA 13 (2012); The Spirit of Utopia, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013); and When Stars Collide, Studio Museum, New York (2014). Solo exhibitions include To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave, the Slave Potter, Milwaukee Art Museum (2010); Seattle Art Museum (2011); MCA Chicago (2013); and ‘The Black Monastic’ residency at Museu Serralves, Porto (2014). In 2013, Gates was awarded the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, and he has since won the Artes Mundi 6 prize (2015). Gates is also the founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation and currently Professor in the Department of Visual Arts, University of Chicago.

There’s more on Genzken and all the Nasher Laureates, in the Nasher Prize section of our site.