Performance with Whitney Biennial artist Theaster Gates

Assistant Professor of Art History Laura Auricchio and 2010 Whitney Biennial artist Theaster Gates combined facts, made-up facts, art history rhetoric, and gospel music to create the performance “Sermonizing the Canon with Bishop Gates,” which was performed at the Artadia Foundation in New York on March 4, 2010.

This collaborative performance was the first that Gates has based on the Glass Lantern Slide Collection of the University of Chicago’s Art History Department, which Gates recently received as a gift. As described in the evening’s program, the event used “the images to offer fresh views of the archive – not as historical artifact – but as fertile soil for improvisation.” While talking shop and having fun, the performers aimed to “resituate the archive as a contemporary living sculpture…and shed constructive light on the distances that sometimes abound between art practitioners and thinkers.”

How did they talk shop and have fun?

Auricchio stood on one side of a lantern slide projector, Gates stood on the other, and they took turns inserting slides at random, projecting them onto a screen. Auricchio, ever the art historian, would start talking about the images from an art historical perspective — identifying the works when possible, making educated guesses when she didn’t know what they were, discussing their formal properties, situating them in historical and aesthetic context, etc., until Gates would interrupt with questions or comments, sung gospel-style or spoken like a fiery sermon, that critiqued what Auricchio was saying or just riffed off of the image, until Auricchio would interrupt him with more “facts,” or by switching slides again. Meanwhile, a bassist was improvising behind them, and a Cantonese-Mandarin interpreter was commenting in, well, Cantonese-Mandarin.

Read more about Gates at:

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