On view for the first time in the United States, Theaster Gates’s Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories includes nearly 3,000 images from the Johnson Publishing Company archive. Founded in 1942, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing chronicled the lives of Black Americans for more than seven decades through the magazines Ebony and Jet. Gates’s work, composed from arguably the most important archive of American Black visual culture in the twentieth century, recontextualizes and makes visible anew these images and their histories. The presentation of this new body of work is drawn from Gates’s Black Madonna exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2018, part of his larger Black Image Corporation project. As Gates says, “‘The Black Image Corporation’ is about the projection of images into the world.” The work invites visitors to engage directly with these rich and varied representations depicting women in their everyday lives, historical moments, and studio poses.
Presented in collaboration with the Lunder Institute for American Art, Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories will also inspire new research and creative production by Lunder Institute visiting scholars and artists interested in exploring the Black image. Over the course of the exhibition, local, national, and international guests from a wide range of disciplines (including archivists, legal scholars, anthropologists, and librarians, as well as visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and art historians) will be invited to spend time with the piece and reflect on its significance through the lens of their particular area of expertise. The Lunder Institute will make the work resulting from these encounters available through a series of digital and print publications.
Theaster Gates (b. 1973, Chicago) is Distinguished Visiting Artist and Director of Artist Initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art. Gates has exhibited widely, including in group shows such as the Whitney Biennial, New York (2010); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012); The Spirit of Utopia at Whitechapel, London (2013); and The Studio Museum in Harlem’s When Stars Collide (2014). Solo exhibitions include To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave, the Slave Potter at Milwaukee Art Museum (2010), Seattle Art Museum (2011), and MCA Chicago (2013); The Black Monastic residency at Museu Serralves, Porto (2014); In the Tower: Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts at National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2017); Black Madonna at Kunstmuseum Basel (2018); and The Black Image Corporation at Fondazione Prada, Milan (2018). In 2013, Gates was awarded the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. He has since won the Artes Mundi 6 prize (2015) and the Nasher Prize (2018). Gates is also the founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation.