Theaster Gates
Le chant du centre
© Victor&Simon - Joana Luz

Theaster Gates:
Le chant du centre

La Grande Halle
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LUMA Arles is hosting Le chant du centre (2024), a new artistic concept presented in collaboration with Theaster Gates as part of its long-term engagement with the celebrated artist.

For the last twenty years, artist Theaster Gates has expanded the field of contemporary art and pushed us to reconsider the canon through materials. Trained as an urban planner and a sculptor whose primary medium is clay, Gates has dedicated a significant part of his practice to reflecting on the relationships between space, craft, and the cultural specificities of traditions that shape one’s artistic trajectory.

For this year’s project, Le chant du centre [The Song of the Center], Gates’s intervention transforms La Grande Halle into a clay manufacturing workshop where visitors are invited into the artist’s production and sculptural research. Gates creates a sacred space around the Temple, a central installation made from pottery ware-boards presenting his vinyl collection, a bar, and ceramic and neon artworks. Together, these elements are a testament to the performance, production and proposal inherent in ceramic futures, or what Gates refers to as the “museological, political, and social possibilities” of honoring clay’s ability as both a functional and sculptural gateway in the fine arts. 

About Le chant du centre, Gates says: “Craft, to me, is interesting, but the political deployment of craft, the performativity of craft, the consumerism caused by craft, is where craft becomes instrumentalized to stand in for other social and economic ambitions. It is my desire to exhaust the questions within myself about the colonialization that happens over the hand. Through this project, I interrogate my own faculty around what craft means, for whom I want it to have meaning and, quite possibly, its meaninglessness.” 

The workshop space honors the craft traditions of Senegalese, Malian, Korean, and Chinese workshops, where collectives of people work together to produce a particular style of making. In this spirit, Gates and LUMA Arles have built in Camargue a traditional Anagama – a variation of a Korean kiln introduced to Japan in the fifth century – which will be fired for five to seven days at a time during the course of the project. The kiln serves as a site of research and production, using the region’s primary natural elements: timber, rice husk, and salt.

Conceived as a durational and demonstrative installation, Le chant du centre will be in constant evolution as new wares and sculptures are formed and fired, providing a different encounter with the work each visit. This conceptual and practical approach to the ceramic workshop explores the ways in which sculpture affects the body and the ways in which craft becomes a vehicle for understanding our human nature in relation to material processes.


Curated by Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Chloé Bonnie More, Curator.



Theaster Gates in his Chicago studio
Photo © Lyndon French
Courtesy of Theaster Gates Studio

Theaster Gates


Theaster Gates (b. 1973) is an artist and social innovator who lives and works in Chicago. Over the past decade, Gates has translated the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives.

In 2010, Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of the South Side of Chicago.

Gates is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees including the Isamu Noguchi Award (2023); National Buildings Museum Vincent Scully Prize (2023); Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts (2022); an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2021); the World Economic Forum Crystal Award (2020); J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development (2018); Nasher Sculpture Prize (2018); Sprengel Museum Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017); and Artes Mundi 6 Prize (2015).

In April 2018, Gates was appointed as the inaugural Distinguished Visiting Artist and Director of Artist Initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art, Colby College, Waterville Maine.

Gates has exhibited and performed at LUMA Arles, France (2023); The New Museum, New York, (2022); The Aichi Triennial, Tokoname (2022); The Serpentine Pavilion, London (2022); The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2021); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013 and 2021); Tate Liverpool, UK (2020); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); Palais de Tokyo Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2016); Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012).

He was the Visiting Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome (2020); and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and serves as the Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives.


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