A Visit To Theaster Gates’s 13th Ballad at the MCA Today

This preview visit to the much-anticipated exhibition showed how Gates planned his “activation” of the MCA’a atrium.

photo: chris strong

Theaster Gates, photographed for Chicago magazine in his bedroom earlier this spring.

13th Ballad, the much-anticipated Theaster Gates exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, officially opens to the public on Saturday. It’s an important homecoming for Gates, as it is his biggest local solo exhibition to date. As Gates said himself earlier today at the media preview, 13th Ballad is a provocative, experimental “activation” of the museum’s atrium space.

Gates is an agent of change. Transformation is a familar theme in his work, whether it’s gutting an abandoned house on Chicago’s South Side or installing church pews inside a prestigious museum. Chicago editors Cassie Walker Burke and Elly Fishman took a closer look at his rise as a local art celebrity and civic leader in a profile in the June issue. And after seeing the Museum of Contemporary Art show this morning, what was most striking was not the static art objects, but the performances that involve them—the things that require Gates’s personality and energy to make into unique works of art.

The public will have just three chances to see Gates whooping it up live with his trusted group of regular musical collaborators (Yaw Agyeman, Khari Lemuel, Tomeka Reid, Joshua Abrams, Mikel Avery, Orron Kenyatta, among them), as well as special guests from the classical music community:

Performance 1: Muddied Pentatonic with Believers and Blocks, Sunday, June 30, at 3:30.

Performance 2: Migration Stories, Sunday, August 11, at 3:30.

Performance 3: Church in Five Acts Sunday, September 22, at 3:30.

The performances will revolve around a new song cycle based on the work of the 19th-century composer Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, and Delta blues musician Muddy Waters—as seen by Gates, U. of C. scholar David Levin, and St. Sabina musical director Michael Drayton.

 

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