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AGO exhibition by Theaster Gates reimagines the house museum as a visionary site for Black freedom

Exhibition opens in Toronto this summer with free artist talk and performance by legendary Chicago House DJ Terry Hunter

Contemporary American artist Theaster Gates makes his Canadian debut this summer with an ambitious solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). In a series of large-scale installations, Gates creates symbolic spaces in the tradition of the house museum, each dedicated to the potential of Black creativity and freedom – past, present and future. Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum opens in Toronto on July 21, 2016 and runs til Oct. 30, 2016, filling the entire fifth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower.

Curated by Kitty Scott, the AGO’s Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art, the exhibition upends the conservative customs associated with house museums, which are so often connected to narrow ideas of cultural heritage and national identity.

“By reimagining the traditional house museum and locating it inside the AGO, Gates calls attention to the need to preserve the accomplishments of Black people, whether famous or lesser known,” says Kitty Scott. “His house museums commemorate their legacies and spaces and, in this reinvention, ask vital questions about how we remember Black creativity and freedom – and how we envision their future.”

Incorporating sound, dance, video, sculpture and paintings, How to Build a House Museum is organized as six symbolic houses. Each house is dedicated to a different person or idea, such as legendary Chicago house music producer DJ Frankie Knuckles, blues musician Muddy Waters, and bricklayer George Black. The exhibition culminates in a club outfitted with a skeletal DJ booth, rotating disco ball, and Gates’s multichannel video House Heads Liberation Training (2016), which creates a space for a moving body.

To mark the opening of the exhibition, the AGO throws a free house party on July 20, 2016. Featuring an artist talk by Gates and performance by celebrated Chicago House DJ Terry Hunter, the event is free but tickets but must be booked online in advance at Party-goers will have a special sneak peek of the exhibition that evening from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Theaster Gates: How to Build A House Museum is included with the price of general admission and is free to AGO members. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at

Chicago-based Gates first visited the AGO in 2013 to deliver the Rapp Lecture in Contemporary Art, where his provocative talk, illustrated with slides from the University of Chicago, explored the impact of African art and modernist primitivism on his work. Since then, his multidisciplinary practice has been seen internationally and continues to explore space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics. Founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, Gates is currently a Professor in the Department of Visual Art and Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago. Gates has exhibited and performed at the Whitechapel Gallery, London; Venice Biennial, Istanbul Biennial, Punta della Dogana, Venice; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany; among others. Recent winner of Artes Mundi 6, Gates has also received awards and grants from Creative Time, United States Artists, Creative Capital, the Joyce Foundation, Graham Foundation, and Artadia. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including the AGO collection.

Theaster Gates: How to Build A House Museum is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This exhibition is generously supported by:

Bob Dorrance and Gail Drummond
Maxine Granovsky Gluskin and Ira Gluskin
The Jay and Barbara Hennick Family Foundation
Nadir and Shabin Mohamed
Partners in Art
Jay Smith and Laura Rapp

Public programs for the exhibition have been generously supported by the United States Consulate General in Toronto, Canada.

Supported by Canada Council for the Arts

With a collection of more than 90,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’s masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002, Ken Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit to learn more.

July 1 – Sept. 18, 2016:            The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris

Oct. 22, 2016 – Jan. 29, 2017:   Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more

April 22 – July 30, 2017:          Georgia O’Keeffe

Sept. 30, 2017 – Jan. 7, 2018:   Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.

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