Theaster Gates’s ‘Rebuild’ Gala Draws Praise From a Powerful Crowd
The event raised more than $1 million in a single evening.
“So, there are some haters in the room,” Theaster Gates declared on Saturday evening, addressing the crowd during the gala benefit for his soon-to-open Stony Island Arts Bank on Chicago’s South Side. “But we’re not going to talk about them tonight. What we are going to talk about is how dope this building is.”
The building is dope indeed. A stately former bank that was abandoned in the 1980s when this historically black neighborhood suffered massive disinvestment, it opens next month under the aegis of Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, to coincide with the first Chicago Architecture Biennial.
When it does, it will a stunning addition to the still palpably downtrodden area, the space given a crisp makeover in Gates’s signature brand of salvage cool. There will be an art gallery, a program of sculpture commissions, performance venues, a towering library, and a treasure trove of vintage vinyl, the latter saved from the collection of Frankie Knuckles, the “godfather of house music.”
As for the haters, for the moment their voices couldn’t seem more marginal. Gates began his speech by reading out a personal letter of best wishes he had received from Barack and Michelle Obama, which read, in part: “In revitalizing this historic building, you are helping to sculpt a future of expanded progress for residents of the South Side and from all of us who call Chicago home.” Friends in high places don’t get much higher.
Neither the Obamas nor the evening’s honorary co-host, Chicago’s wildly divisive mayor Rahm Emanuel, made an appearance on Saturday (though both the city’s director of cultural affairs, Michelle T. Boone, and US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker were in attendance). But the blessings of the powerful helped Rebuild raise over $1 million in a few short hours. Guests at the “Build / Rebuild” gala shelled out $5,000 a head, or $50,000 a table, for the experience. (For comparison’s sake, the Renaissance Society’s “100th Birthday Bash,” held the same night, cost a mere $100 to enter.)
In addition to Chicago’s philanthropic elite, the event summoned a stunning array of major art players, from Gates’s own London dealer Jay Jopling, who sponsored the evening via his White Cube gallery, to British starchitect David Adjaye, in town for a retrospective at the Art Institute, to current Venice Biennale curator Okwui Enwezor, and an array of major artists including Nick Cave, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Chris Ofili, Lorna Simpson, and Hank Willis Thomas.
Pointing out all the famous guests in attendance during his speech, Gates built to a crescendo, literally shouting in exuberance: “All these people up on the South Side! On 69th and Stony Islaaaaaaaand!!! COME ON!!!”
What it all means, I am honestly still processing. The substantial analysis I defer to a later piece.
In the meantime, photos of the evening are below.
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