Theaster Gates: Freedom of Assembly at White Cube

An exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by the Chicago artist is grounded in the personal and political


As we learned from his talks at last year’s Culture Lab Detroit, Chicago-born artist
Theaster Gates is probably best known for creating art that also has a social agenda, using his skills and influence to help the regeneration of the Grand Crossing neighborhood in his hometown, among many other things. His latest show “Freedom of Assembly” takes Gates to London’s Bermondsey, where he ties together contemporary events in the city with his own history; a series of new paintings and sculptures with thought-provoking narratives are on exhibit at White Cube Gallery.


One of the most striking pieces in the show is the minimalist “Ground Rules,” a brand new work that is simultaneously a painting and a sculpture. Made from the disused gym floors of closed-down Chicago schools, the evocative piece is both a modernist work of art as well as political and social commentary on the state of the city. At a discussion at White Cube, Gates spoke of how people talk about his work in terms of urban planning and design, but said it’s hard for him not to think about Bauhaus, and that those paintings “are maybe getting at that relationship between the spiritual and the technical.”

Another piece is made of materials from a closed-down hardware store, reinforcing the loss and change that seemingly form the narrative of many of the pieces—but it’s also about saving a piece of the past and transforming it into something that can affect the present and future.


The last, and largest, room of the show bookends the exhibition with Gates’ first love: clay works. Gigantic pots have been covered in tar or ceramic glaze and are watched over by a group of small figures assembled close by. This last room also contains a series of large paintings based on the procedure of roofing, rather than painting. These works reference Gates’ personal background as the son of a roofer, and together with the clay vases they combine to end the exhibition on a more personal, reflective note.

Opening today, “Freedom of Assembly” runs through 5 July 2015 at White Cube Bermondsey.

Images courtesy of Theaster Gates