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Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates. Min | Mon at LUMA Arles. Photo: Joana Luz and Renata Pires ©Victor&Simon 

Min I Mon marks the beginning of a longer engagement between Luma and Gates, during which multiple forms central to his ongoing explorations will manifest in Luma’s spaces in Arles over a period of years. 民 (Min), meaning “the people” in Japanese, and 門 (Mon), meaning “gates,” define the conviviality and cultural hybridity that are often at the heart of Gates’s historic projects. 

At the center of the Grande Halle, Temple harnesses materials from Gates’s earliest exhibitions, transporting visitors to a site informed by what Gates terms ‘Afro-Mingei.’ Afro-Mingei is the embodiment of an ongoing question that Gates examines regarding his own adjacency to non-American cultural legacies. For Gates, the Mingei movement extols the importance of excellent handmade craftsmanship for everyday people. Espoused as propaganda fighting Western assimilation, Gates considers the legacies of Mingei alongside the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement, which challenged Eurocentric beauty standards in celebration of Black music, bodies, hair, and consciousness. 

Temple, a sake bar and DJ booth is activated with Gates’s personal archive of vinyl containing more than 2,500 albums of Soul, Funk, and R&B records. Uniting two key strands of his artistic interests, the structure holds an intimate yet public space that blends preexisting cultural conventions. MON – a new brand of sake produced by Gates in partnership with the Hakurou company - is crafted in Tokoname, Japan, the town where Gates studied ceramics. Offered publicly for the first time at Luma, MON sake exemplifies his ongoing exploration of ritual and ceremony distinctive in Eastern culture and philosophy.  

Gates’s sculptural practice and the ways in which he gives form to complex truths about labor, value, origin and material is made manifest in Sweet Chariot, Madonna in Pink and The Grind. Lining the exterior walls are prints with graphic interventions, such as Summer Tones for a Fall Situation and Kitsch Italian Design on the Backs of Blacks, highlighting the beauty and significance of the Black image. These studies are extracted from thousands of photographic prints from the image archive Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet Magazines, and aspire to keep alive one of the most important collections of Black culture of the 20th century. Seeking to connect what might be at times distant realities, Gates supersedes the limitations of media working towards a redefinition of a spatial concept of art.