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[Premiere] Theaster Gates Is Preserving Black Spaces by Buying Whole Stores

The Chicago-based artist shares his outlook on collecting in a new video by Art21, premiering today on Creators.
All images courtesy of Art21

Some collectors spend years scouring hole-in-the-wall shops and the nooks and crannies of eBay to amass a stash of records, stamps, or whatever else they choose to spend their time and money accumulating. Artist Theaster Gates collects things a little differently, often by buying entire forgotten or threatened spaces outright.

This summer, Art21 is releasing new films every Friday as part of their Summer of Shorts video series, and this week's episode features the Chicago-based artist sharing his views on collecting as a way of archiving the history of neighborhoods and black spaces. "I had this keen interest in not just autonomous objects but whole collections of things. I'm attracted to collections because they constitute one person's or one institution's way of seeing the world… so I spend a lot of time looking for the personality of people within their collections," Gates says in the video.


All images courtesy of Art21

To date, Gates has purchased an entire Southside Chicago record store, Dr. Wax in Hyde Park comprising 6,000 to 8,000 albums; the Prairie Avenue Bookstore, formerly at 418 South Wabash and one of America's last architecture book stores when it closed in 2009; and a collection of unbound Jet magazines from 90s, which he then binds and turns into "monochromatic" paintings. Gates's latest foray, detailed in the video below, involves archiving an entire Southside Chicago hardware store, which he bought from its previous owner, a man named Ken, who had owned it for 30 years.

Archiving a hardware store, with its inventory of everyday gizmos and gadgets, provides its own challenges. "How do you catalog the everyday?… Is this another way of tracking black space? Black, not necessarily just about black people, but forgotten people. It's a space where things have stopped growing, and then maybe it's also the void," Gates says.

Check out the entire video below:

Theaster Gates: Collecting is part of Art21's Summer of Shorts video series, which premieres a new video each Friday through August 4. Check out the whole series on YouTube.


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