Theaster Gates

April 16–August 1, 2010

In this exhibition, contemporary Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates Jr. explores the history and legacy of Dave Drake (also known as Dave the Potter). A slave in antebellum South Carolina, Drake produced stoneware pottery and famously adorned his pots with poetic couplets. Though historians and art historians have explored Drake’s career in detail, Gates is the first artist to reinterpret his work and to make it pertinent to a broader set of concerns about the place of labor and craft in present-day America.

The exhibition’s provocative installation, titled To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter, features a gospel choir that engages the enigmatic, emotional works of poetry found on Drake’s pots. Gates created the captivating sound piece with musicians from both Milwaukee and Chicago. Gates further collaborated with local tradespeople to develop original ceramic works for the show. Thus, the project, as intended, has brought together two very different groups of people in partnership, and promises to create lasting relationships across the city.

Potter, musician, and performance artist, Theaster Gates Jr. has earned national acclaim for his intelligent commentaries on race, the city, and the museum and was recently selected to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

Theaster Gates is supported by a generous grant from the Joyce Foundation, which fosters the development of new works in dance, music, theater, and visual arts by artists of color. Additional support provided by the African American Art Alliance. The exhibition is curated by Ethan Lasser, curator at the Chipstone Foundation.
  • Dave Drake, Storage Jar, Lewis Miles pottery, 1858 (detail). Courtesy of Arthur Goldberg. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.