Every Square Needs a Circle marks a continuation of Gates’s long engagement with the work of American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, whose examination of genius and progress in Black America from Emancipation to the mid-20th century has been a source of inspiration for the artist. Placing his interest in poetics and the history of objects, Gates debuts a multi-faceted installation that bridges the work of Du Bois with architectural excerpts from Chicago, expounding on the archives that hold and preserve records of Black intelligence.
Relating moments from art history to stories of quotidian labor, Every Square Needs a Circle is a rumination on materials, time and repetition. Gates elects a 1962 artwork by Agnes Martin titled Little Sister as a foundational moment for the exhibition. The small oil and ink painting on canvas—punctuated by hundreds of brass nails hammered onto a gridded composition—serves as the Modernist antecedent to Gates’s assertion that everyday processes are a means to soulful fulfillment. The grid becomes a metaphor for the city’s built environment, onto which Gates imposes the physical history of his native Chicago. Extending architectural elements and archival materials through works in tar and neon, Gates puts forth a critique of the city that comments on Black economies and empire building. Gates explains, "the work is not about a social mission. It is about sculpture and how things I believe in manifest through the material world.”