Theaster Gates. Breathing, 2010. Digital color video, with sound, 6 min., 58 sec. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Deborah and Larry Hoffman.
November 7, 2020—May 31, 2021
Theaster Gates is one of the most highly regarded artists active in the United States today. His innovative, multidimensional practice is deeply rooted in questions of social justice, centering on novel ways of marrying art, urban planning, and community participation to address systemic racism and economic inequity.
Gates is known for creating sculptures that touch on African American identity and history by utilizing materials culled from derelict buildings scattered throughout Chicago’s South Side, an underserved, predominantly Black neighborhood that has long struggled with the effects of urban blight. Throughout his career, he has used his artistic production to finance major urban revitalization projects in this neighborhood. Under the auspices of his nonprofit organization the Rebuild Foundation, Gates and his collaborators have transformed numerous abandoned structures into affordable housing, art studios, and work space. They have also established several public venues that offer rich and vigorous cultural programming, presenting art exhibitions, cinema, theater, dance, and music; housing libraries, special collections, and archives; hosting job-training initiatives and other hands-on workshops; and serving as platforms for civic discussion and community engagement.
Breathing (2010) was inspired by the artist’s avid interest in Eastern Buddhism as well as his lifelong personal relationship with traditional gospel music, which constituted a formative aspect of his Baptist upbringing. The singers who appear in the video belong to an experimental choir known as the Black Monks (formerly the Black Monks of Mississippi), which Gates has directed since 2008. The ensemble has performed many times in the context of Gates’s rehabilitated venues and in conjunction with his exhibitions in art galleries and museums around the world. The Black Monks merge Black Southern gospel and blues music with the monastic chant traditions of Buddhism. The soothing, beautiful melodies that result from this unique hybrid testify to the potency of Black spiritual musical legacies while alluding to a communal experience that transcends geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.
Highlights from the Exhibition
Organization and Support
Theaster Gates: Breathing is organized by Chief Curator René Morales in the Bank of America Gallery. Ongoing support for PAMM’s project galleries from Knight Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.
Digital Exhibition Brochure: Theaster Gates: Breathing