Theaster Gates, Artist and Urban Planner, On His Style Inspirations

GOLDEN GATES: The rising star, whose work has been shown at the Whitney and LA’s MOCA, talks about the West Side church that gave him his fashion, and picks 10 of his favorite things

Theaster Gates
Gates in his studio with pottery from Feast, an exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art

An urban planner and arts administrator at the University of Chicago, Theaster Gates, 38, is better known as a rising star in the art world. Museums worldwide—including the Whitney in New York and MOCA in Los Angeles—have shown his work, which is a combination of sculpture, installation, and performance with racial and political themes. (You can see some of it at the Smart Museum of Art from February 16 to June 10; the exhibition, Feast, focuses on the aesthetics and culture of the shared meal.)

When asked about the biggest influence on his style, Gates names the New Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church on the West Side, which he attended as a child. “I got a better sense of fashion there,” he says, “than I ever could have had from reading a magazine.” See ten things he loves below.



10 Things He Loves

Woodworking tools

“I like the efficiency of these old tools; there’s a right and a wrong way to use them.”



Wooden pallets

“They came from Wrigley’s chewing gum factories. I used them to build one of my first large-scale installations in Pilsen.”



'Soul on Ice' by Eldridge Cleaver

“This was a really important book for me in my youth. It was the first time I read about a black man struggling in the world, knowing that it was not fair.”



Patek Philippe Calatrava watch

PATEK PHILIPPE CALATRAVA WATCH ($23,000, Tourneau, 835 N. Michigan Ave.)
“I want a slim watch that has an intimate relationship with my wrist, like this one.”



Bamboo bicycle

“This is a totally different way to think about building a bike, with materials that are equally strong and super water-resistant.”


Photography: (book, watch, bike) courtesy of vendors; (all others) Anna Knott


Conga drums

“I went through this period of listening to Latin and world music, and it played a big part in my desire to travel.”



Kangol cap

KANGOL CAP ($48, Silver Room, 1442 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
“The Kangol identifies with a particular historical moment. It signifies the wearer is keeping it real.”



Armani blazer

“I bought this velvet jacket at Halls department store in Kansas City to wear to the L.A. MOCA gala.”



Tumi overnight bag

TUMI OVERNIGHT BAG ($695, Tumi, 645 N. Michigan Ave.)
“I have a thing for medicine bags and leather duffels.”


“I made pieces early in my ceramic life for my mother. I loved that you could make a set of things beyond your personal needs that could be shared.”


Photography: (hat) courtesy of vendor; (all others) Anna Knott



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