Theaster Gates Gets Approval for Transfer of Abandoned Chicago Bank for Latest Public Project

Gates. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan)

On Tuesday, while Chicago–based artist Theaster Gates was in London for Frieze and to drop in on his first solo show at White Cube, he got news that Chicago’s Community Development Commission, which reviews sales of city-owned property, approved the transfer of an abandoned bank to the company he uses to oversee some of his art projects. Mr. Gates hopes to convert it into a multi-use facility.

“This is a really important building, this bank project,” Mr. Gates told us by phone from Chicago’s Hyde Park, fresh off the plane from London. Assuming a final sign-off from Chicago’s city council goes through, he plans to renovate the building to make room for artist studios and a soul-food restaurant. It may also become home to portions of the Johnson Publishing Company editorial archive, which publishes Ebony magazine, he said. Part of that archive is now on view at White Cube through Nov. 11 as part of Mr. Gates’s show.

Mr. Gates, who earlier this year persuaded the city to postpone the demolition of the bank, had been eagerly awaiting the news of the review board’s decision. Now all that remains is for the city council’s sign off on the deal—which is expected—and for financing to be worked out.

If he succeeds in transforming the building, it will be the latest in a series of ambitious public projects he has undertaken in recent years. At the Documenta 13 exhibition earlier this year, in Kassel, Germany, Mr. Gates renovated an abandoned house using materials from another abandoned house in Chicago that he redid in 2011. As with both of those houses, Mr. Gates’s hopes to make over the bank into a hub of cultural activity.

“The city had acquired that property approximately four years ago for about $750,000,” said Peter Strazzabosco, the deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, who confirmed the news. “What we approved was its transfer to private ownership at zero cost.” It originally acquired the building at the height of the market hoping to turn it into an unofficial neighborhood landmark but as a result of the economic downturn had decided to demolish it when the cost of its upkeep was too burdensome on the city’s budget.

As for the official closing? “It’ll happen sometime this year,” said Mr. Strazzabosco. “It could happen as soon as later this month or next.” He added that whether or not the city will be helping out with financing Mr. Gates’s project will be discussed at a later time.

Last night in London, Mr. Gates was spotted performing a two-hour gospel set at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club with his band, the Black Monks of Mississippi. “I think the Monks had fun last night,” he said.” “That was fulfilling.” He paused. “I’ve been busy, huh?”

Theaster Gates Gets Approval for Transfer of Abandoned Chicago Bank for Latest Public Project