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Chicago Artist Buys Old Bank for $1, Makes it an Arts Palace
Art And Culture

Chicago Artist Buys Old Bank for $1, Makes it an Arts Palace

The Chicago artist Theaster Gates’ Stony Island Art Bank is an artwork, not just an arts venue.
Chicago’s first-ever Architecture Biennial served as a staging ground for wild pavilions, exhibits, and installations. The fair also coincided with the debut of a major new artwork: the Stony Island Art Bank, reports citylab.com.
Theaster Gates bought the Prohibition-era Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank building from the city of Chicago for $1. Yes, there was a catch: The artist had to raise the $3.7 million it would take to rehabilitate the building and put it to new use. Gates did the thing that you’re never supposed to do with a historic building: He started pulling it apart, piece by piece.
Since 2013, Gates has been pulling chunks of marble from the building. The artist cut these chunks into “bond certificates” stamped with his signature and the motto, “In ART We Trust.” As Gates told The New York Times back in 2013, he sold 100 marble tablets for $5,000 apiece, as well as some larger slabs that went for $50,000 each. Since they’re artworks whose value stands to appreciate, the marble chunks in fact do work like bonds.
All of Chicago’s South Side was invited to attend the opening of the Stony Island Art Bank earlier this month. The building is now an archive for community resources, among them the books and magazines of John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet and the vast record collection of Chicago’s Frankie Knuckles, the late Godfather of House Music.
 The artist is known for his work in a field called “social practice,” a genre that has no specific medium or form—only an ethos about working with communities or institutions. The lineage of this kind of work is long and distinguished, although in recent years, social practice has gained traction and visibility beyond the art world.
Mel Chin, a sculptor, has made work directly engaging the plight of lead-soil contamination in New Orleans. Rick Lowe - who rejects the term - won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant for Project Row Houses, an incubator and community resource center in Houston comprising 22 formerly derelict properties.
In a release, Gates described the project as “an institution of and for the South Side.” The New Yorker says that Gates is “is reshaping the South Side in his image.”

 

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