American artist and urbanist Theaster Gates will design the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion, the first non-architect to win the commission in the initiative’s 21-year history.
The Architect’s Journal first broke the news this morning after conferring with Serpentine Gallery. While it was reportedly too early to release details on what Gates’s installation will entail, there are likely some clues to be found in his canon.
Gates, currently a professor at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, is an urban planner by training but frequently integrates sound, motion, Black history, and architectural features into his work. His most famous initiative, the ongoing Dorchester Projects, began in 2008 as a way to rehabilitate rundown properties on Chicago’s South Side; by buying up derelict buildings, repurposing the scrap within as art, and funneling the money made back into the neighborhood (rinse and repeat), Gates has been able to keep the program running indefinitely.
Of course, although not an accredited architect, Gates’s work also extends into more formal built projects. In 2019, he oversaw work on the University of Chicago’s transformation of the Edward Durell Stone-designed Keller Center. That same year, he headlined the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and visitors to Manhattan’s New Museum can catch his 2014 video installation, Gone are the Days of Shelter and Martyr, at the Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America exhibition through June 6, 2021. Gates coordinated the performance piece inside of the South Side’s abandoned Roman Catholic Church of St. Laurence, now demolished, where the rhythmic picking up and slamming of heavy wooden doors combines “the musical traditions of the Black South and the asceticism of Eastern monasticism.”
The annual Serpentine Pavilion commission, raised on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens, was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is currently being installed for a June 11 debut. The 2020 winners, the Johannesburg, South Africa-based Counterspace, are working with global architecture and engineering giant AECOM to realize the installation. Once complete, Counterspace’s structure, made from materials like cork, unfired brick, and construction waste, will create a collection of seating and gathering spaces organized under a flat disk.
The Serpentine Gallery is currently closed due to the pandemic but will reopen to the public tomorrow, May 19.