BY AURIEL GARZA PHOTOGRAPHY BY NAN COULTER AND KEVIN TODORA
With a canon steeped in social practice, multidisciplinary artist Theaster Gates is awarded the 2018 Nasher Prize.
s urban planning a form of sculpture? What about community activism or museum exhibitions? How about an assembly of master ceramicists, laboring over their wares and enjoying a live poetry reading set in a contemporary art gallery? Or how about a Japanese-inspired soul food dinner followed by a musical performance and politically charged conversation? The selection of Theaster Gates as the 2018 Nasher Prize Laureate would have us believe that, under the right circumstances, all of the above may be framed as sculpture. Each year an international jury composed of museum directors, curators, artists, and art historians gathers to select the Nasher Prize Laureate, an honor that comes with a $100,000 prize. Chicago-based, Theaster Gates is the first American to receive the prize, following prior prizewinners Doris Salcedo and Pierre Huyghe. Gates has unquestionably earned this recognition—“awarded to a living artist who has made an extraordinary impact on our understanding of sculpture as an art form.” His expansive oeuvre
includes everything from painting to grassroots fundraising, traditional ceramics to navigating the bureaucracies of city government, and filmmaking and performance to sharing a meal and being a good neighbor. Gates creates discrete objects, yes, but he also creates cultural space and critical opportunities for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and resources in underprivileged communities. He’s probably best known for pioneering cultural space in formerly abandoned buildings in the poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood of Greater Grand Crossing located on Chicago’s South Side where Gates has lived since 2006. A professor of visual arts and the director of Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago, Gates is also the founder and director of the Rebuild Foundation. Since 2009, the nonprofit has renovated over 30 buildings, providing free arts programming, community space, and affordable housing, studio, and live-work space in and around Greater Grand Crossing. What began as one artist’s mission to offer something beautiful