Theaster Gates’s ‘Rebuild’ Gala Draws Praise From a Powerful Crowd

The event raised more than $1 million in a single evening.

Theaster Gates and Chris Ofili
Theaster Gates and Chris Ofili

“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.

The Rebuild Foundation’s "BUILD / REBUILD" benefit at the newly restored Stony Island Arts Bank

The Rebuild Foundation’s “BUILD / REBUILD” benefit at the newly restored Stony Island Arts Bank.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

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.

Rebuild Foundation CEO Ken Stewart [left], artist Theaster Gates [center], and Okwui Enwezor

Rebuild Foundation CEO Ken Stewart [left], artist Theaster Gates [center], and Okwui Enwezor at the “BUILD / REBUILD” gala.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems gives an impromptu tribute to Theaster Gates

Artist Carrie Mae Weems gives an impromptu tribute to Theaster Gates.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

David Adjaye pays tribute to Theaster Gates

David Adjaye pays tribute to Theaster Gates.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Jason Moran performs for guests

Jason Moran performs for guests.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Rebuild Foundation CEO Ken Stewart and Chicago Architecture Biennial director Sarah Herda<br>Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Rebuild Foundation CEO Ken Stewart and Chicago Architecture Biennial director Sarah Herda.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Philanthropist Anita Blanchard and artist Glenn Ligon<br>Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Philanthropist Anita Blanchard and artist Glenn Ligon.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Victoria Rogers, Desiree Rogers

Johnson Publishing Company CEO Desiree Rogers and Kickstarter art and photography outreach lead Victoria Rogers. 
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Sondra Karman and Expo Chicago director Tony Karman

Sondra Karman and Expo Chicago director Tony Karman.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Brooklyn museum curator Eugenie Tsai, Brooklyn museum curator Rujeko Hockley, and artist Hank Willis Thomas

Brooklyn Museum curator Eugenie Tsai, Brooklyn Museum assistant curator Rujeko Hockley, and artist Hank Willis Thomas.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Michelle Boone, Liz Lefkofsky

Chicago director of cultural affairs Michelle Boone and philanthropist Liz Lefkofsky.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Studio Museum curator Thelma Golden and philanthropist Linda Johnson Rice

Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and chairman of the Johnson Publishing Company, Linda Johnson Rice.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Omar Kholeif, Cari Sacks, and MCA chief curator Michael Darling

MCA Chicago curator Omar Kholeif, philanthropist Cari Sacks, and MCA chief curator Michael Darling.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Artist Nick Cave, philanthropist Marlene Breslow Blitstein, Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak, and Bob Faust

Artist Nick Cave, philanthropist Marlene Breslow Blitstein, Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak, and Bob Faust.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Philanthropists (and gala hosts) Chelsea Smith and James Smith

Philanthropists (and gala host committee members) James and Chelsea Smith.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

Theaster Gates and Chris Ofili

. Theaster Gates and Chris Ofili.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.


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