But To Be A Poor Race

Theaster Gates showcases artworks at Regen Projects in Los Angeles

Art News West
Installation view of Theaster Gates But To Be A Poor Race at Regen Projects in Los Angeles .
(Courtesy Brian Forrest / Theaster Gates)
Installation view of Theaster Gates But To Be A Poor Race at Regen Projects in Los Angeles . (Courtesy Brian Forrest / Theaster Gates)

Regen Projects is currently showcasing new works by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates in Los Angeles.

The exhibition, titled But To Be A Poor Race, uses painting to explore themes found within W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal book, The Souls of Black Folk. In the book, Du Bois uses essays to chronicle examples of exceptionalism within the African American community in an effort to humanize Black experiences during an era of segregation and racism. Du Bois’s work is considered to be important both as a sociological exploration and a political text.

Theaster Gates's Dirty Red sculpture made of fire hoses. (Courtesy ©Theaster Gates / Courtesy Regen Projects)

Theaster Gates’s Dirty Red sculpture made of fire hoses. (Courtesy ©Theaster Gates / Courtesy Regen Projects)

The paintings on display reinterpret statistical data presented in The Souls of Black Folk as abstract, geometric fields of color. The artist also uses sculpture—including a collection of sculptural objects, ephemera, and video artworks—to explore themes of Black experience, visual politics, and shamanism. Three of the works utilize bound copies of Jet magazines, a weekly digest focusing on important figures in the African American community that ran in print form from 1951 until 2014, to convey the lines of a long poem. Each of the works contains a stanza from the poem, with the three works arranged at eye level along the gallery walls so they can be read while walking.


In a press release for the exhibition, Gates describes the exhibition as an exploration of racialized poverty, saying, But To Be A Poor Race questions a particular kind of poverty, one that is not just about a lack of economic capital but one that is deprived of the basic elements from which one can make a living.”
Theaster Gates's Mountain Aura painting. (Courtesy ©Theaster Gates / Regen Projects)

Theaster Gates’s Mountain Aura painting. (Courtesy ©Theaster Gates / Regen Projects)

In a work hearkening to contemporary political times, the exhibition also features a video titled My country tis of thee that depicts a musical performance of the song My Country ‘Tis of Thee by Gates and musicians The Black Monks of Mississippi. In the video, the artists perform the patriotic song as both a sincere expression of patriotism and simultaneously as a work of satire.

The exhibition is on view until February 25, 2017. For more information, see the Regen Projects website.

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