This is the most exciting art project I have heard about coming out of Chicago in a very long time. The context is very different, but the principles are not far off from what the WerkStadt does in Berlin. His gallery is in London, so I discovered him reading a long write up in the Guardian . . . Check out the TED talk as well, he makes a good case in that peculiur TED conference way.
Over the seven years since, Gates has used the same principle – buying and stripping out properties in his neighbourhood, a mile or two south of the university but a different world entirely, remaking some of the scrap as art, selling it, and buying more property to create community spaces and houses for local artists and others. In 2011 he made a series of beautiful textured canvases covered in spectrums or coils of reclaimed fire hoses, called them In the Event of a Race Riot. One set recently sold at Christie’s for £250,000. Always channelling the money back into the “Dorchester Projects”, he is inexorably remodelling his entire neighbourhood which had previously been hollowed out for two or three decades by poverty and crime. Gates now employs and houses 60 “artists and makers”, and his practice is expanding to other cities in the American rust belt – St Louis, Missouri; Akron, Ohio; Gary, Indiana. His ambition is growing too. Two years ago he saved from demolition a bank building, with classical portico and marble interior, the last civic building standing on Stony Island Avenue, the main drag two blocks from his home. The bank was flooded out and long-abandoned. Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, and Gates’s most reliable patron, sold it to him for a dollar, on the basis that the artist would raise the money to renovate it. To this end Gates has created bonds from the marble tiles of the bank’s former urinals – readymades, indeed – inscribed, “In art we trust”. He has sold 100 of them for $5,000 each to get the renovation started. In the kind of neat reversal he lives for, he plans to sell more of his urinal bonds to collectors at the forthcoming Basel art fair. “I’m hoping Swiss bankers will bail out my flooded South Side bank in the name of art,” he says, with a broad grin.