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Artist shares his ‘China Cabinet’ of curiosity
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2021-04-03 04:29

IT is better to read some background information of Theaster Gates before stepping into the exhibition “China Cabinet” that runs until May 23 at Prada Rong Zhai, a historic residence in downtown Shanghai.

Born in 1973 in Chicago, Gates is a visual artist, performer, professor, urban planner and social innovator who works to revitalize under-served neighborhoods by combining urban planning and art practices.

“Growing up, my mother would refer to the cabinet of curiosities in our living room, as her china cabinet — it is common American vernacular to call the cabinet in which you place your knick-knacks a china cabinet,” the artist said of the title of the exhibition.

Gates has conceived a story in three chapters that unfolds across several rooms in the building.

Six display cases are installed in the ballroom on the first floor, featuring the fundamental elements of his works with the precision and gaps typical of an archeological presentation.

For example, “A Representational History” is dedicated to African-American culture.

It hosts Black memorabilia such as praying puppets, various African masks and idols, daily objects like an African chair, and everyday consumer items featuring racist stereotypes.

The vitrine — glass display case — also holds small and large ceramic vases, books on Chinese art, and magazines from the Johnson Publishing Company, which according to the artist, the publisher worked against derogatory images of black people.

The Chinese element reflected in his work is titled “The Repatriation of Chinese Tiles,” a survey of tiles and their materials.

The artist recovered over 25,000 tiles from an abandoned Chinese building and for this project, he arranged 250 of the tiles, stacking them in neat column. The contrast of colors is achieved with the combination of the clay roof tiles and ceramic bisque tiles.

The broken and therefore “unusable” tiles are instead crushed into powder and then heated until molten at high temperatures to create a black, glazed compound.

So the material takes on different forms and confirms Gates’ ability to work with disused and damaged objects and to rediscover their potential and quality.

Another eye-catching work is “Rickshaw for Black Bricks in 2013,” inspired by his visits to Mexico and Haiti. The artist has piled clay bricks into a neat stack on a wooden cart, a means repeatedly used in his research to reflect on the theme of migration and on the living conditions of the poorest populations.

When exploring other rooms of the building, visitors will see hundreds of plates, cups, bowls, jars and other utilitarian ceramics on the tables.

The artist treats the whole building like a “china cabinet” in an attempt to create a dialogue between the historical house and the objects and works in it.

Dates: Through May 23 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm

Tickets: 60 yuan

Venue: Prada Rong Zhai

Address: 186 Shanxi Rd N.