Critics’ Picks

Theaster Gates, Double screen to shade dark histories, 2016, hardwood, glazed ceramic, fur, 119 x 69 1/2 x 52".

Los Angeles

Theaster Gates

Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
January 14–February 18, 2017

On a neat horizontal row of matte-black-bound Jet magazines, Theaster Gates has inscribed his own poetry in gold. Ever the pedagogue, the artist writes in rhythmic repetition on one segment of West Side Story, 2017, “Glissant is trying to say listen / to the water and the page / listen to the water and the page / listen to the fucking water-page / our boats are open / my boat is open / m(w)y boat / we boat.” Here he refers to Édouard Glissant, the Martinican poet and philosopher, who wrote movingly about African diasporas formed in the violent and dynamic “abyss” of the Middle Passage.

Although currently best known for his community and archival work in Chicago, the paintings, sculptures, and a single-channel video displayed here evidences the artist’s ongoing engagements with urban planning, religious studies, and pottery.

No work here dates from before 2015, yet the show has the feel of a career retrospective. This is because Gates works on several series concurrently. Although each is worthy of mention, his sculptures are especially intriguing, as complex meditations on ceramic form placed in proximity to other materials such as wood and fur. In Double screen to shade dark histories, 2016, two wooden trusses are hinged and turned on their sides. They protect a bulbous gray pot, rimmed with a glaze that has pooled, in a brilliant emerald, inside. That a truss is built and repurposed to shield the reveal, or that an archive is assembled into new and vital poetry (that nevertheless gives history lessons), is a democratic call to rethink the possible, or as Glissant writes, “Our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone.”