Theaster Gates Receives Austrian Friedrich Kiesler Prize for Architecture and Art
The jury awarded the American artist for his transdisciplinary and participatory approach to combine social engagement with architecture and art.
10. September 2021
The Austrian Friedrich and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation announces the American artist Theaster Gates as the winner of the Friedrich Kiesler Prize for Architecture and Art, one of the most highly endowed international prizes in this field.
Born in Chicago in 1973, Theaster Gates is one of the most independent contemporary artists. He is a sculptor, ceramist and social innovator. He deals with issues of spatial planning as well as the revitalization and reactivation of buildings. His focus is on community building through ambitious cultural projects and the preservation of black culture in America. He uses different artistic practices, in particular sculpture and painting as well as spatial interventions, film or music. His long-term cultural projects combine the goal of triggering social, political or artistic changes, as well as creating high-quality programs and offers in black communities. Theaster Gates became known with the Rebuild Foundation, his non-profit organization in Chicago, which is transforming abandoned rooms and buildings in the south of the city into a cultural place for the neighborhood. Since then he has been present in important international museums and exhibitions, including documenta 13 in Kassel and in the Haus der Kunst, Munich (D), in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (USA), im Palais de Tokyo, Paris (F), in the Kunstmuseum Basel (CH), in the Fondazione Prada, Milan (I) or the Kunsthaus Bregenz (AT).
“Spaces and platforms that highlight the achievements of black artists and designers have long been overlooked. Projects that pay attention to people as well as the implications of a built form deserve recognition. I am very grateful to be part of this exemplary process and grateful that the selection committee recognizes my work as part of the line of outstanding personalities who have received this award in the past. I would like to thank everyone who has supported my work both in the museums and on the street, “said Theaster Gates’ initial reaction to the award.
“I am very pleased that with Theaster Gates a virtuoso border crosser between the visual arts, performance, activism and urban planning is being honored. His work, conceived in connection with the visionary work of Friedrich Kiesler, opens up new horizons. He is interested in the question of how social spaces can be created with artistic means and is therefore highly relevant for civil society. The artistic range that Theaster Gates has at its disposal – from pottery to music – is an exciting reflection of the heterogeneity of urban life. Even in years of trials, he never loses sight of the goal of making life better for all residents of a city, ”emphasizes Vienna’s City Councilor for Culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler.
“Theaster Gates moves masterfully at the interface between architecture, spatial development and art and is therefore predestined for the Friedrich Kiesler Prize,” said State Secretary for Art and Culture Andrea Mayer. “All of his work, but the Rebuild Foundation in particular, is a prime example of how art and architecture can also have a social impact. Theaster Gates is a worthy Kiesler Prize winner – and also a role model for everyone who works in this area. ”
The Austrian Friedrich and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation is extremely happy about the jury selection: “Theaster Gates knows like no other how to combine social engagement with architectural and artistic solutions in its work. The places created are not only new centers for the community, but also impress with their extraordinarily poetic and spatial-aesthetic quality. Gates’ novel spatial practice combined with a social agenda raises both the Friedrich Kiesler Prize and architecture as an artistic discipline to a new level. He is a concept artist who takes on the pressing problems of our time and his immediate environment. His process-oriented and transdisciplinary approach, his claim to improve people’s reality, connect him with Friedrich Kiesler and his idea of the ‘correlated arts’ ”. (Elke Delugan-Meissl, President of the Friedrich Kiesler Foundation)
The top-class jury of the Friedrich Kiesler Prize justified its decision as follows:
“The jury is pleased to award this year’s Kiesler Prize to Theaster Gates, a Chicago-based artist, activist and cultural impresario. His artistic practice spans different genres of art and connects them to a social agenda. Gates’ extraordinary achievements can easily be linked with Friedrich Kiesler’s artistic concepts and his experimental attitude, in the direction of the union of all arts with the built environment and a social conception of space.
With his Rebuild Foundation, Gates merges cultural history and community building by literally transforming ruins into something new. He composes materials, spaces and activities with a holistic sensitivity for the big picture as well as for the detail. He uses his position in the art world and as an academic, combining funding, research and his connections to politics to bring about change. He correlates art, architecture and altruistic entrepreneurship – but above all he is someone who recognizes a problem in the world, accepts challenges and brings about social and urban change.
With Theaster Gates, the Kiesler Prize jury honors a concept artist who does not act within the established system of architecture and the art world, but has found power through a very unusual and idiosyncratic practice. His artistic approach is characterized by transdisciplinarity, respect, inclusion and participatory processes. The most important goal of his work is social change, spatial transformation and empowerment. By endowing his work with both impressive aesthetic value and a social agenda, he has found a meaningful role for today’s architecture. In this way, Theaster Gates connects the historical position of Friedrich Kiesler with the pressing questions of our time. ”