Big Ideas: Theaster Gates

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    Courtesy of Theaster Gates. Photo: Chris Strong.

Past Event

This event was on Thu 11 Nov, 7pm

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This special event features Theaster Gates reflecting on his new exhibition, A Clay Sermonin which his transformation of clay – from geological substance into utilitarian and artistic material – stands as a powerful metaphor for his socially-engaged work and wider artistic practice. 

Here Gates is joined in conversation with artist Magdalene Odundo DBE and Whitechapel Gallery Chief Curator Lydia Yee.

In partnership with the V&A. Supported by the Stanley Picker Trust. 

This event is part of our season Ways of Knowing: Earth / Matter.

Please note: this event is a live broadcast of a pre-recorded discussion. 

About Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates (b.1973) lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates work that focuses on space theory and land development, sculpture and performance. In all aspects of his work, he contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise – one defined by collective desire, artistic agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist. Clay has been central to Gates’s practice since earning an MA in urban planning and ceramics at Iowa State University in 1996 and subsequently studying pottery in Tokoname, Japan. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and the Harris School of Public Policy and serves as the Senior Advisor for Cultural Innovation and Advisor to the Dean.  He has recently exhibited and performed at TANK Shanghai, Shanghai, China (2021); Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai, China (2021); Tate Liverpool (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016) and Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013). Gates has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Arts Mundi 6 Prize (2017); the Légion d’Honneur (2017); the Nasher Prize for Sculpture (2018);  the Urban Land Institute, J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development (2018); the World Economic Forum Crystal Award (2020); and an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2021). Gates was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021.

About Magdalene Odundo DBE

Magdalene Odundo DBE is an internationally acclaimed ceramic artist, who received her early education in India and Kenya before moving to England in 1971. After completing her undergraduate at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham in 1976, she undertook a teaching post at the Commonwealth Institute, London, in Museum Education before completing her masters at the Royal College of Art, London. She returned to teach at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in 1997, becoming Professor of Ceramics in 2000 and inaugurated as a Professor Emerita in 2016 in recognition of her contribution to the University’s research culture. Magdalene is now the Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts.

In 2019 the Hepworth Wakefield hosted Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things. An exhibition that, for the first time, explored the inextricable link between the prodigious array of objects Odundo has studied over half a century and the formation of her own singular vocabulary. Remaining faithful to the vessel form throughout her career, Odundo’s achievements have, for the greater part, been considered and appreciated within the context of twentieth-century British studio pottery. Odundo was, and remains, one of the greatest voices to emerge during the flourishing of British studio ceramics in the 1980’s; within that narrative, her work contributed to a reshaping and enriching of its expressions and discourses. Yet her work also sits apart, its complex organic qualities finding more illuminating affinities with modernist sculpture than utilitarian ceramic traditions. Made in Britain but shaped by a global outlook, Odundo’s work pushes against any attempts to define it geographically, preferring instead to speak in a language that transcends time and place.

Magdalene’s work is included in the permanent collections of international museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, The British Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York and the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.

She has also received honorary doctorates from the University of Florida (2014) and University of the Arts London (2016). In 2008 she was awarded an OBE for services to the Arts and Art Education and was made a Dame in the 2020 New Years Honours.