Theaster Gates

“Black Chapel”
Serpentine Pavilion | London | 2022

This FSA Inspiration highlights American artist Theaster Gates (b. 1973), for his Black Chapel installed at the Serpentine Pavilion in London (2022). An artist known for his urban planning, community organizing, sculpture, installation, and performance, Gates relates that he was inspired by the black experience, conceptualizing the monumentality of “taking up space”. Gates invisions Black Chapel as a public vessel and gathering instrument not only for personal reflection, but also for worship, programming, and sacred music. Kensington Gardens affords a bucolic environment for the public to encounter both peaceful meditation and joyous song.

 

Art historian and curator Aindrea Emelife write about Black Chapel in her article for Wallpaper* “Theaster Gates’ Serpentine Pavilion asks: how do you create a sacred space?”: “Gates’ architectural references include the beehive kilns of the American West, the traditional forms of Cameroon’s Musgum mud huts, Uganda’s Kasubi Tombs, and industrial structures such as bottle kilns in Stoke-on-Trent (the heart of the British ceramic industry).

Art historian and curator Aindrea Emelife write about Black Chapel in her article for Wallpaper* “Theaster Gates’ Serpentine Pavilion asks: how do you create a sacred space?”: “Gates’ architectural references include the beehive kilns of the American West, the traditional forms of Cameroon’s Musgum mud huts, Uganda’s Kasubi Tombs, and industrial structures such as bottle kilns in Stoke-on-Trent (the heart of the British ceramic industry). Here, Gates draws on his own ceramic practice whilst connecting with the history of religious structures such as a 16th-century Tempietto in Rome designed by Donato Bramante, the Umbrian architect who would later design St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Meaning ‘little temple’ the Tempietto is a small, circular church whose design mixes the aesthetic intentions of sculpture with the spiritual ideals of an ancient pagan temple, resting heavily on and honoring Classical aesthetics – a style popular during the Italian Renaissance, and assuring harmony and order. The elements are mathematically proportioned, a unity and simplicity also achieved in Gates’ investigations into clay. Black Chapel fuses spirituality with a multicultural High Renaissance.”

By synthesizing architectural components from the oculus ceiling opening at the Roman Pantheon (“A Temple to All Gods”) to the bottle-shaped kilns in Stroke-on-Tent, this structure also pays homage to Gates’ late father – a builder. There is a playful dialogue for a roofer’s son to have an open ceiling that lets in the rain. It is not just a form of drainage, as his earlier sculpture Black Vessel for a Saint (2017) at the Walker Art Museum might suggest; but perhaps a form of natural baptism.

Walker Curator Victoria Sung interviews Gates on “Creating Space for the Possibility of a Sacred Moment” that could also be said of Black Chapel. States Gates: “I’m interested in this idea of the role that artists play in considering not only the ironic or idiosyncratic, but also the sincere, the sacred, the political, the moral. Is it possible to deal with the sacred in a way that simply lets there be space for the possibility of a sacred act or a sacred moment? Whether people are believers in the sacred or not, can architecture, design, the arts create a moment where you feel like you’re touching something that is bigger than my humanity or your humanity?”

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Images from “Black Chapel” and “Black Vessel for a Saint”