At a dinner last night at an event space in a sprawling garden north of Basel’s main drag that was given in honor of his current exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, after heartfelt speeches from his dealers Jay Jopling and Shaun Regen, the artist Theaster Gates bounded up to the microphone and launched into a section of “It’s My Party” as everyone put down their forks and knives and the volume of the speakers was adjusted so that everyone could hear him.
Gates, who is 44 and who had been sitting with a holy trinity of international curators—Hans Ulrich Obrist, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and Okwui Enwezor, who just announced that he will step down from the Haus der Kunst in Munich for health reasons—was wearing a blazer over a red Colby College shirt (he was recently named distinguished visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at its Lunder Institute for American Art). His remarks would be brief.
Halting his singing, Gates intoned to collectors and dealers on hand, “Please support artists who live in your cities.” The next time an artist stops them in the supermarket and says, “Hey, I’m a street photographer,” he told them, “Please go by their studios. Don’t wait until they’re in, like, Unlimited. Help them get to Unlimited.” (Gates, as it happens, appeared in that Art Basel section, which is devoted to oversized art, in 2013, a stop that helped propel him on his meteoric rise.) “For the cost of one Francis Bacon,” he continued, “we could like feed 50,000 artists for 20 years.”
“You guys, I know that I’m the byproduct of people saying yes when they didn’t know me, saying yes at my potential and the possibility of the thing,” he went on. “Throwing small dinners with me with five people that has turned into dinners for 200. I’m just grateful. And I also understand that there are thousands and thousands of people who are way more talented but far less cute.” At this, his audience burst to applause.
Gates then thanked the team at the Kunstmuseum who put together his show, and ended with this: “To my left is a brother, Okweui Enwezor. What a pleasure it is to have you by my side. You guys, I’m grateful.”