“It’s a Chicago show,” Theaster Gates tells me as he walked me through his latest exhibition at Richard Gray Gallery‘s Midwestern outpost. After a year of traveling for his high-profile collaborations and exhibitions, he says, “It feels good to be home.”
“Policy undergirds this exhibition,” Gates, who is an art and public policy professor at the University of Chicago, explains. He uses easily available industrial materials to physically craft relationships between land, labor, art, and theory. Utilizing his objects, he’s drawing responses to inquiries like: “How do cities work? How do people work in cities?”
He describes this exhibition as a sculpture show at its core. The collection of never-before-showcased objects materialize the underpinnings of urban livelihoods: commerce, culture, ancestry, trauma, which, particularly for Black Americans, are inextricably entwined. The material and typically invisible layers of cities come to the surface in Gates’s diverse artistic oeuvre, particularly concrete, tar, and steel, which are blatantly featured here. He says, that these things “live together,” and thus formulate a completeness or wholeness (hence the show’s title, Every Square Needs a Circle).