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Theaster Gates turns discarded objects into art – The Economist

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IN 2012 THEASTER GATES shipped a cargo of construction materials from a dilapidated house on the South Side of Chicago to the German city of Kassel. He had been invited to exhibit at Documenta, a city-wide art show held there every five years. In Kassel Mr Gates had come upon Huguenot House, a run-down hotel built by migrants and named after the French Protestants who fled abroad in the 17th and 18th centuries. Once people had sought refuge in the building’s cellar, but it had been abandoned since the second world war. He was fascinated by parallels between the Huguenots who made a new home in Germany and the African-Americans who travelled north to Chicago during the great migration of the mid-20th century. He asked to take over the whole building.

Mr Gates and his team exposed torn wallpaper and stripped away plaster. They filled one of the disused rooms with staircases to nowhere, made wall hangings out of mattress ticking and a shoeshine stand from old floorboards. (Those stands feature a lot in Mr Gates’s installations: at openings he often asks his well-heeled collectors to polish visitors’ shoes.) The project, entitled “12 Ballads for Huguenot House”, became one of Documenta’s biggest draws, with Mr Gates’s music ensemble, Black Monks of Mississippi, playing ballads that blended Zen chanting with slave spirituals. “You know we had Kassel rocking,” he remembers. “It became an extremely electric place.”

The artist’s postbox began to fill up with invitations from other European curators, intrigued by the way he trawled through African-American history to create conceptual artworks about memory and music. These led to solo exhibitions in Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, France and Britain. But not in America, where he featured only in group shows.

“I think that [in] the US we can be quite provincial,” Mr Gates comments. But there may have been another reason. In his home country, where he studied urban planning, he is best known for something else. In 2006 he moved to the South Side and bought a former sweetshop, aided by a loan from his mother and a subprime mortgage. Ever since, he has been scooping up condemned buildings and transforming them into vibrant culture centres, with libraries, studios and space for meetings, exhibitions and performance—in a part of Chicago that is 93% African-American and notoriously short of such places.

He coaxed the University of Chicago to spend $2m on an arts hub in the neighbourhood. He persuaded Rahm Emanuel, then the mayor, to sell him the Stony Island State Savings Bank, boarded up but owned by the city, for a dollar—plus a promise that Mr Gates would raise the money to turn it into an arts venue. In 2013 he cut 100 marble slabs from the building, inscribed them with the words “In Art We Trust”, and sold them for $5,000 each at Art Basel as if they were bonds.

These days Mr Gates owns or manages more than a dozen buildings in Chicago. “Every morning I check on fences, make sure the grass is mowed,” he says. “If it’s rained I check there are no major leaks. I’m a landlord.”

Through the roof

That is Mr Gates the social entrepreneur. But America is about to learn more about Mr Gates the artist, thanks to a major new show that opens at Gagosian in New York on October 10th. As his centres in Chicago closed when covid-19 took hold in the spring, Mr Gates retreated to his studio. He spent a month cleaning assiduously, “to help me cope with the anxiety”. Then came the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests against racial injustice. His advice to white Americans who want to help improve race relations is eminently practical: “If you really want to help, get some black friends, marry a black man. The number of white people I know who don’t have one real black friend, it’s scary. It blows my mind that we live such racially distanced lives.”

Lockdown helped him hone his ideas for the Gagosian show. Called “Black Vessel”, it is a tribute to family life (an only son, Mr Gates has eight older sisters), maternal love and manual labour. His father was a roofer, and this exhibition, based on clay and roofing materials, will be his “origin story”, he explains. “It’s about homage to my dad,” but also about the transfer of “a skill and a way of making from one generation to another”. The elder Gates did not want his son to be a roofer; that is why he sent him to college. “The show says a lot about the potential within blackness, the potential within labour, the potential between—in this case—a father and a son to transfer and do better.”

Some of the work harks back to the years he spent making pottery in America and Japan. In 2007, at a series of dinners in Chicago, he memorably served up soul food on plates that he crafted, supposedly in honour of a Japanese potter named Shoji Yamaguchi, who turned out not to exist. His new pots will fill one room at the gallery.

A second will display his “roofing” sculptures: slabs of rubberised roofing from some of Mr Gates’s building projects, coated with tar and painted in industrial colours (tile red, terracotta and blueish-green). These recall the work of Robert Rauschenberg or Alberto Burri, an innovative Italian painter and sculptor who took up working with plastic, blowtorches and sacking after he was released from a POW camp in Texas. Prices for Mr Gates’s ceramics will start at $200,000, and for the roofing sculptures at $500,000—far above his previous auction prices, but a sign of his growing following and of soaring demand for African-American artists.

But the showstopper, and the real “Black Vessel”, will be the large main gallery, which Mr Gates is lining entirely with special bricks from a factory in South Carolina. Whenever the plant switches from, say, making red bricks to blue ones, the offcuts produced during the transition are thrown away. Some of these were saved for him, and fired black. They are symbols of Mr Gates’s artistic and civic interests: the salvage and repurposing of discarded black artefacts. It will transform Gagosian into “an empty black sanctuary”, which, in a difficult year, “feels really, really good”.

“Theaster Gates: Black Vessel” will be at Gagosian, 555 West 24th St, New York, from October 10th

This article appeared in the Books & arts section of the print edition under the headline “Feats of clay”

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Anthony Kiendl sets a new course at the Vancouver Art Gallery – Vancouver Sun

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“(Plug In was) definitely internationally known in contemporary art but probably not with everyday people in suburban Winnipeg,” he said.

“They wanted to grow and take that next step.”

Kiendl realized the best way for Plug In to do that was to approach the University of Winnipeg and create a joint venture partnership.

“That’s what gave us the gasoline and critical mass to make the project happen,” he said.

In a four-year capital campaign, Kiendl raised $4 million as Plug In’s share for the $15 million building at 460 Portage Avenue, across from Hudson’s Bay and next to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Plug In’s attendance increased ten-fold.

In Regina, he took over as CEO and executive director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery in 2014. The gallery began to struggle financially when it was hit with major funding cuts, including $100,000 from an annual grant on its $2 million operating budget.

One area he targeted was free admission. When the MacKenzie started charging $10 for adults it was offset by several measures to ensure community access such as free admission for anyone under 17 and free days covered by a corporate donor.

The public voted with their feet: attendance over three years increased by almost 40 per cent. With the addition of a café, earned revenue jumped by 247 per cent.

“It is kind of sad but I did come to believe if something has a value attached to it, people value it,” he said.

“If it’s free, I think at a certain level, people are thinking, ‘Maybe it’s not that good.’”

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Bruce Springsteen and the Art of Aging Well – The Atlantic

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Bryan Derballa / The New York Ti​mes / Redux

I recently saw a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson in the first year of his presidency. He looked like a classic old guy—wrinkled, mature, in the late season of life. It was a shock to learn that he was only 55 at the time, roughly the same age as Chris Rock is now. He left the presidency, broken, and beaten, at 60, the same age as, say, Colin Firth is now.

Something has happened to aging. Whether because of better diet or health care or something else, a 73-year-old in 2020 looks like a 53-year-old in 1935. The speaker of the House is 80 and going strong. The presidential candidates are 77 and 74. Even our rock stars are getting up there. Bob Dylan produced a remarkable album this year at 79. Bruce Springsteen released an album today at 71. “Active aging” is now a decades-long phase of life. As the nation becomes a gerontocracy, it’s worth pondering: What do people gain when they age, and what do they lose? What does successful aging look like?

President Donald Trump is a prime example of an unsuccessful older person—one who still lusts for external validation, who doesn’t know who he is, who knows no peace. Nearly two millennia ago, the Roman statesman Cicero offered a more robust vision of what elders should do and be: “It’s not by strength or speed or swiftness of body that great deeds are done,” he wrote, “but by wisdom, character and sober judgment. These qualities are not lacking in old age but in fact grow as time passes.”

Springsteen is the world champion of aging well—physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. His new album and film, Letter to You, are performances about growing older and death, topics that would have seemed unlikely for rock when it was born as a rebellion for anyone over 30. Letter to You is rich in lessons for those who want to know what successful aging looks like. Far from being sad or lachrymose, it’s both youthful—loud and hard-charging—and serene and wise. It’s a step forward from his Broadway show that debuted three years ago and his memoir, released four years ago. Now he’s not only telling the story of his life, but asking, in the face of death, about life’s meaning, and savoring life in the current moment.

It’s the happiest Springsteen album maybe in decades. “When I listen to it, there’s more joy than dread,” Springsteen told me. “Dread is an emotion that all of us have become very familiar with. The record is a little bit of an antidote to that.” The album generates the feeling you get when you meet a certain sort of older person—one who knows the story of her life, who sees herself whole, and who now approaches the world with an earned emotional security and gratitude.

The album, and the film that recorded the making of the album (I recommend watching the film first), was occasioned by a death. From 1965 to 1968, when rock was in its moment of explosive growth and creativity, Springsteen was in a band called the Castiles. Two years ago, Springsteen found himself at the bedside of a member of that band, George Theiss, as he died of cancer. After his passing, Springsteen realized that he is the sole remaining survivor from that band—the “Last Man Standing,” as he puts it in one of the songs on the new album.

The experience created an emotional vortex and the music poured out of him. “The actual mechanics of songwriting is only understandable up to a certain point,” Springsteen told me, “and it’s frustrating because it’s at that point that it begins to matter. Creativity is an act of magic rising up from your subconscious. It feels wonderful every time it happens, and I’ve learned to live with the anxiety of it not happening over long periods of time.”

On the album, Springsteen goes back in time to those mid-’60s years when he, Theiss, and the Castiles would play in the union halls, hullabaloo clubs, and bowling alleys around Freehold, New Jersey. He goes further back, to his childhood, and reminisces about the trains that used to rumble through town; the pennies he’d put on the tracks; and when he first became familiar with death as a boy, going to the funerals of his extended clan, walking up semi-terrified and kneeling before the casket and then walking back home with a sense of trembling accomplishment.

“Memory is many things,” the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister has written. “It is a call to resolve in us what simply will not go away.” Springsteen has made a career, and built a global fan base, out of going back and back, to Freehold and Asbury Park, and digging, digging, digging to understand the people he grew up around and who made him, for good and ill, the man he became. “The artists who hold our attention,” he told me, “have something eating away at them, and they never quite define it, but it’s always there.”

Even in his 70s, Springsteen still has drive. What drives him no longer feels like ambition, he said, that craving for success, recognition, and making your place in the world. It feels more elemental, like the drive for water, food, or sex. He talks about this in the movie: “After all this time, I still feel the burning need to communicate. It’s there when I wake every morning. It walks alongside of me throughout the day … Over the past 50 years, it has never ceased. Is it loneliness, hunger, ego, ambition, desire, a need to be felt and heard, recognized, all of the above? All I know, it is one of the most consistent impulses of my life.”

With the Castiles, he not only learned how to do his job but also found his mode of emotional communication and a spiritual awareness. He found his vocation, and his vehicle for becoming himself. A lot of the music on this album is about music, the making of it and the listening to it, the power that it has. The songs “House of A Thousand Guitars” and “Power of Prayer” are about those moments when music launches you out of normal life and toward transcendence. For a nonreligious guy, Springsteen is the most religious guy on the planet; his religion is musical deliverance.

Like every successful mature person, Springsteen oozes gratitude—especially for relationships. The film is largely about the camaraderie of the E Street Band, men and women who have been playing together off and on for 45 years and who have honed their skills and developed a shorthand for communicating. We watch them discussing and arguing over how to put each song together, then savor the end result. The band sounds fantastic, especially the powerful drumming of Max Weinberg.

The film intersperses clips of Springsteen recording and performing with the same guys four decades ago, when they were young and lithe, and today, when they’re a bit grizzled. “We weren’t immune from the vicissitudes. We had the same ups and downs as most rock bands,” Springsteen told me. “It’s like a marriage. The ups and downs have deepened us. The band is as close now as it’s ever been. We had to suffer.”

Letter to You is a sincere and vulnerable album. It conveys Springsteen’s appreciation for the conversation he’s had with his audience, and his appreciation for the dead and the debts we owe them. The core of the album comprises three songs about how the dead live on in us and in the ensuing generations. “It’s just your ghost / Moving through the night / Your spirit filled with light / I need, need you by my side / Your love and I’m alive,” Springsteen sings in “Ghosts,” the best track on the album.

“When you’re young, you believe the world changes faster than it does. It does change, but it’s slow,” Springsteen told me. “You learn to accept the world on its terms without giving up the belief that you can change the world. That’s a successful adulthood—the maturation of your thought process and very soul to the point where you understand the limits of life, without giving up on its possibilities.”

Attaining that perspective is the core of successful maturity. Carrying the losses gently. Learning to live with the inner conflicts, such as alternating confidence and insecurity. Getting out of your own way, savoring life and not trying to conquer it, shedding the self-righteousness that sometimes accompanies youth, and giving other people a break. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, as they used to say.

That perspective is evident in the movie’s “bright sadness,” to use a term from the Franciscan monk Richard Rohr. Directed by Thom Zimny, the film cuts again and again to overhead shots of snow-covered forests—Old Man Winter coming. But inside the studio, everything is warm and full of music. The dreams of Springsteen and his band came true times a thousand; they have good reason to be content in old age. But studies show that most people do get happier as they age. They focus more on life’s pleasures than its threats.

As you watch the film, you may think of not only personal maturity but also national maturity. America has always fancied itself as wild and innocent; youth, Oscar Wilde observed, is the country’s oldest tradition. After the past 20 years, and especially after the presidency of Donald Trump, we’ve become jaded, and look askance at our former presumption of innocence. But, taking a cue from Springsteen, maybe we can achieve a more mature national perspective in the years post-Trump.

“Joe Biden is like one of the fathers in the neighborhood I grew up with as a kid,” Springsteen told me. “They were firemen and policemen, and there was an innate decency to most of them that he carries naturally with him. It’s very American.”

Approaching 80, Biden is pretty old. Seventy-seven is probably not the ideal age to start such a grueling job as president of the United States. But making the most of the not-ideal is what maturity teaches. The urge to give something to future generations rises up in people over 65, and a style of leadership informed by that urge may be exactly what American needs right now. Today, being 77 doesn’t have to be a time of wrapping things up; it’s just the moment you’re in, still moving to something better. Maybe this can be America—not in decline, but moving with maturity to a new strength.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

David Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a columnist for The New York Times. He is the author of The Road to Character and The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.

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Art comes a Crawling – Coast Reporter

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Your annual Sunshine Coast Art Crawl is here! Creek studios open this Friday, Saturday and Sunday run the gambit from bonsai to photography, from cedar carvings to the crystal gallery with a selection of pottery work to boot. A scaled down event from years past, you may actually have a chance to get to a majority of the studios this time! With 97 studios participating (17 here in the Creek), 76 are open for drop in, the remainder are virtual or by appointment only. Find your map at Eco Freako, the Rusty Hinge and elsewhere, and get Crawling! 

Our little local, the #219, has a temporary covering for the whole front yard that will be up until Halloween. The outdoor licence they hold ends on the 31st so they have decided to go for it, rain or shine! Doors at 4 p.m. except the 25th, last call at 9 p.m. Seating will be limited, and dress for the weather, eh? Where I grew up, the first snow was in the closing weeks of October but that’s another reason why I live here, right? 

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Oct. 23: The Hook, is this from the “line and sinker” fame? Not sure about that but sure to be entertaining! 

Oct. 24: The High Quadra Ramblers are Mack Shields on fiddle and vocals and Kaitlin Chamberlin on banjo, vocals and stepdancing, who recently released their second high-energy album. 

Oct. 25: Martini Madness (2 p.m. matinee) where I imagine there will be martinis, perhaps even some madness? Maybe they are talking about the band? Checkerboard Rock FTW! 

Oct. 30: Captain Fantasy brings your Ween fix for those who would brave the elements! 

Oct. 31: Halloween Party (last night of outdoor stage – details next week). 

Open House at WolfPups! Saturday, Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3186 Hansen Rd. Your chance to sign up for two upcoming Studio Play Dates: printing with hand-cut stencils, and natural dye T-shirt. Ask Sarita for deets! 

What is art? It is said that a builder uses their hands, a craftsperson uses their head and their hands and an artist uses their heart, their head and their hands. To me, it’s those things created to bring more beauty into the world (I pledged to do this years ago). A solo show early in my career was entitled, “Objects, Useful and Not,” and that said a lot about what art is. From chocolate to blankets, paintings to music, there are a lot of Creekers using their hearts to give us a more decorated life. I spend between one and three per cent of my annual income on art and have not regretted one purchase. Each piece brings me joy. In these difficult days you deserve to have more of the heart of an artist in your life; it will pay dividends to you, our artists and our community as a whole. This weekend is your chance to make it happen. 

As always, I am happy to share your news, event, workshop or what have you. kellybacks@rocket
mail.com

 

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