Theaster Gates’s newest project, the Stony Island Arts Bank, a 17,000-square-foot building he purchased from the city for $1, which opens to the public this Saturday, October 3, will do something many of Gates’s Rebuild Foundation projects have not—exist with normal operating hours for true public access.
Gates describes the bank as a “laboratory,” a place where black artists and other individuals can experiment, research, and engage with the history of the south side. The site will hold several massive libraries, including 60,000 glass lantern slides and the vinyl collection of house music legend Frankie Knuckles, on which the Reader‘s Leor Galil reported last week.
“One question that I am always asking myself is ‘Who has the right to amazing culture, the highest imagined possibilities of culture?’ ” Gates says. “I would say that has often been relegated to the wealthy and elite—whoever and wherever they come from.”
Gates explains that he wanted to create a space that would allow that sort of culture to be accessed by all. “I can’t expect anyone else to build the hyperimaged space that I imagine,” he says. “It is just a matter of rolling up your sleeves for a couple of years and really setting yourself to task.”
The building’s first exhibition is an installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga. His cardboard-based structures act as faux columns in the bank’s first-floor gallery space and, oddly, blend into the nearly century-old architecture. Rebuild Foundation’s CEO Ken Stewart anticipates that the Arts Bank will host three exhibitions a year, with a focus on existing work and site-specific installations. The building will also be a cornerstone of the upcoming Chicago Architectural Biennial, serving as one of the official sites along with the Cultural Center and Millennium Park. v