See Theaster Gates’s Plan for the Next Serpentine Pavilion: A Timber Chapel Inspired by Historic English Kilns 

Details of the artist’s design, revealed by the Serpentine today, include an oculus and a salvaged church bell from Chicago’s South Side.

Theaster Gates's Black Chapel concept for the Serpentine Pavilion 2022. Design render, interior view. © 2022 Theaster Gates Studio.
Theaster Gates's Black Chapel concept for the Serpentine Pavilion 2022. Design render, interior view. © 2022 Theaster Gates Studio.

The Serpentine Pavilion has revealed the design for its 21st edition. Artist Theaster Gates, the first non-architect solely awarded the prestigious commission, will erect an open-air, light-filled chapel for spiritual reflection and communal gathering in London’s Kensington Gardens this summer, 

Gates drew inspiration from the kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, a city in central England famous for its pottery. His pavilion will take the form of a wooden rotunda topped with an oculus that will light the space with beams of sun. 

A large bell, salvaged from the demolished St. Laurence Church on Chicago’s South Side, will stand outside the structure and be used to announce the beginning of performances and other forms of programming staged inside, according to the Serpentine.

Black Chapel, as the project is called, will open to the public on June 10. 

Theaster Gates. © Sara Pooley.

Theaster Gates. © Sara Pooley.

“The name,” Gates said in a statement, “is important because it reflects the invisible parts of my artistic practice. It acknowledges the role that sacred music and the sacred arts have had on my practice, and the collective quality of these emotional and communal initiatives.” 

The project shares a title with the artist’s 2019 commission to design the central atrium of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, organized by the late curator Okwui Enwezor.

Black Chapel also suggests that in these times there could be a space where one could rest from the pressures of the day and spend time in quietude,” Gates went on. “I have always wanted to build spaces that consider the power of sound and music as a healing mechanism and emotive force that allows people to enter a space of deep reflection and/or deep participation.”

Architect David Adjaye will assist in the construction of the chapel, made almost entirely of timber and designed to be dismantled and recreated somewhere more permanent in the future. 

Theaster Gates's <i>Black Chapel</i> concept for the Serpentine Pavilion 2022. Design render, interior view. © 2022 Theaster Gates Studio.

Theaster Gates’s Black Chapel concept for the Serpentine Pavilion 2022. Design render, interior view. © 2022 Theaster Gates Studio.

Adjaye also served as an advisor, along with fellow architect David Glover, on the Pavilion selection committee. The rest of the committee comprised Serpentine staff: artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, CEO Bettina Korek, director of construction and special projects Julie Burnell, director of curatorial affairs and public practice Yesomi Umolu, and curator Natalia Grabowska.

“One of the most significant voices working today, Gates’s praxis combines formalism, conceptualism and powerful impact felt throughout the communities in which he works and beyond,” said Obrist and Korek of the artist in a statement of their own.

The commission to design a temporary structure near Serpentine’s two galleries in Kensington Gardens has been awarded annually to an international architect or firm since 2000. (The 2020 commission was pushed to 2021 because of the pandemic.)


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