Theaster Gates - New Now London Thursday, December 8, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “It seems some of us are trying to put things back together. The reason why art is important is because it doesn’t have to represent anything, and it could point to something much bigger than the painting, or to something much more complicated […] Projects that are successful are symbolic. You’re looking at something that’s really trying to represent something else.”
    —Theaster Gates


    Despite his claim that ‘I am not interested in making beautiful things’, one cannot help being mesmerised by Theaster Gates’ wall sculpture, Topological Study with Hosei. Executed on a large scale, the work is made up of stained wooden panels, painted in a shifting, Verdigris green and framing a central section comprised of time-worn fire hoses stacked on top of one another. Whilst there are immediately arresting and visually alluring elements to the work - including the compressed linear forms created by the piping which tie the piece together like grains in a piece of wood - the work’s power lies in the manipulation of the medium to provoke symbolism and connote deeper meaning.


    The use of found materials is fundamental to Gates’ artistic practice and, in the case of Topological Study with Hose, the nature of his materials and the locations from which they were sourced carry  powerful political overtones. The decommissioned fire hose piping used in the present work was sourced from Pell City, Alabama in a direct reference to the 1963 Birmingham Campaign. This was a civil rights protest led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Fred Shuttleworth, acting in response to the deep-rooted segregation and disparities in all aspects of lived experienced by African Americans in Birmingham. During these highly publicised demonstrations, non-violent protestors were brutally attacked by police forces using high-pressure fire hoses, showing to the world how objects which ‘were used to do great things could actually be some of the most demeaning and horrific weapons used in American history.’ii

    “Art and protest are forms of political thought”
    —Theaster Gates
    Gates has remarked on his interest in providing ‘really tangible ways of supporting large, sometimes symbolic acts’ in his work, a tendency that is well documented in Topological Study with Hose. In making history and politics physically present through the medium, Gates allows viewers to acknowledge and pay tribute to those individuals who endangered their own lives in the fight for equality, the work provoking a visceral reflection on the inhuman use of brute force in this pivotal event in the civil rights movement which ultimately led to comprehensive desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


    What is more, the wooden frame of the piece, sourced from a school in the Dorchester area of Chicago which had been due to close, alludes to more current themes present in Gates’ work, namely the widespread defunding of African-American urban communities in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. In this way, Topological Study with Hose ruptures the boundaries between art, politics and history, as a work of political thought which not only provides a powerful message but powerfully situates the viewer within the debate which it provokes, strengthening dialogues between the tribulations and achievements of the past and the renewed struggles of the present.


    Left: Marcel Duchamp, Fresh Widow, 1920/64, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Image: © Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Vera & Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    Right: Mark Rothko, No. 19 (Slate Blue and Brown on Plum), 1958, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: ©The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / DACS, London 2022


    A signature piece from the artist’s Hose series, Topological Study with Hose represents one of Gates’ largest works to come to auction. The use of found objects links the piece to revolutionary artists such as Marcel Duchamp, who similarly repurposed everyday materials for conceptual ends. Unlike such predecessors though, who often used humour and sharp juxtaposition to recontextualise these repurposed objects, Gates’ work ties itself more closely to certain political and historical moments, establishing inextricable links between his materials and the meaning communicated by the work. Visually, the muted green structure burnt brown centre also evoke the colour field paintings of Abstract American artist Mark Rothko, notably works such as No. 19 (Slate Blue and Brown on Plum). As in Rothko’s work, Gates here generates a powerful, emotional charge, one that draws viewers back to a social and political realities, rather than more abstract modes of spiritual reflection.


    Not many artists, if not people, can lay claim to the wide array of talents and practises which Theaster Gates holds; ceramicist, sculptor, installation artist, performance artist, musician, university professor, urban planner, the list goes on. He has realised major surveys at the Whitney Biennial of American Art, New York 2010; Documenta 12, Kassel 2012; Prospect 3, New Orleans 2014; the 56th Venice Bienniale, 2015; the 14th Istanbul Biennial, 2015; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland 2016; among various others. He was awarded the Artes Mundi 6 Prize in 2015 and received the Légion d'Honneur in 2017 alongside other grants and awards from Creative Time, the Vera List Centre for Art and Politics, the Joyce Foundation, and the Bemis Centre for Contemporary Arts. Moreover, he is the subject of “the biggest takeover by a single artist that London has witnessed in recent years”, having completed two major solo exhibitions, A Clay Sermon at the Whitechapel Gallery and Oh, The Wind Oh, The Wind at White Cube, completing a two-year long research project at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and creating his monumental structure, the Black Chapel, the work selected for the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Park Gardens.iv



    i Theaster Gates, quoted in Michele Robecchi ed., Theaster Gates, London, 2015, p. 44.

    ii Theaster Gates, quoted in ‘Spotlight on Theaster Gates’ “Civil Tapestries” Series’, Whitewall, 15 June 2020, online.

    iii Theaster Gates, quoted in Alex Needham, ““Clay feels perverse” – Theaster Gates on workin on Obama’s library and going back to pottery”, The Guardian, 21 October 2021, online.

    iv TF Chan, "Theaster Gates: London, urban reform and exemplars of Black excellence”, Wallpaper*, 14 September 2021, online.

    • Provenance

      White Cube, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, White Cube, Theaster Gates: My Labor is My Protest, 2 September - 11 November 2012, p.167, (illustrated, p.153)

Property from A Distinguished European Collection


Topological Study with Hose

wood, fire hose and cork board, with staples
94.1 x 276.9 x 25.4 cm (37 x 109 x 10 in.)
Executed in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £226,800

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Gibbs
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now
+44 20 7901 7993


New Now

London Auction 8 December 2022