Invited to reimagine the spaces of Prada Rong Zhai in an unprecedented way, Theaster Gates shows his ceramics body of work and reveals the link that exists between this activity as a ceramist and those as a visual artist, a performer, a professor, a urban planner and a community activist. For China Cabinet, Gates conceived a three-chapter story that unfolds in the rooms on the building’s first floor. Over the course of this narrative, the setting changes and the artist’s role evolves from guest to ghost to host.
In the first chapter, the artist as a guest presents the themes underlying his work in six showcases wherein visitors can trace the elements that characterize his practice: the reuse of materials and architectural construction techniques, his references to craftsmanship and spirituality, his employment of the stereotypical imagery imposed on the African-American community, the use of symbols from the civil rights movement, and the presence of archival material such as magazines, books, music, and films that constitute Gates’ universe.
The second phase of the show invokes the artist as an interlocutor. Here, Gates reveals the complexity of his relationship to ceramics —which comprises both intellectual and tactile aspects—in a site-specific installation divided into two parts. The first is a precise and clean presentation of his works distributed throughout the space as if they were in an antique Chinese porcelain boutique. The second part is a reconstruction of his potter’s workshop presenting many plates, cups, bowls, vases, and other utilitarian ceramics alongside artworks made using similar techniques.
The story culminates with the artist’s complete occupation of Prada Rong Zhai with artworks displayed as they would be in a private home. In the end, the artist has transformed from a visitor into a generous host desiring to share the comfort and beauty of his carefully appointed residence with his guests.