Theaster Gates receives Artes Mundi prize

Theaster Gates has received the Artes Mundi prize, a major honor for contemporary artists. The £40,000 prize—the largest art prize in the United Kingdom and among the world’s largest—was awarded two weeks ago in Cardiff, Wales.

Gates, professor of visual arts and director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago, was honored for his piece “A Complicated Relationship Between Heaven and Earth, or When We Believe.” The installation, currently on display at the National Museum in Cardiff, features a series of symbolic religious objects from around the world.

The Artes Mundi judges praised not only that piece, but also Gates’ ongoing work on Chicago’s South Side. Through his work with both Arts and Public Life and the Rebuild Foundation, Gates uses art to transform people’s perceptions of disinvested neighborhoods.

“In these difficult social-political times, art that engages with social concerns offers meaning to our lives; it challenges, comforts, teaches and resists. All the shortlisted artists have produced outstanding exhibitions, but for this year’s judging panel Gates’ practice stood out for his ability to be not just an artist but an urbanist, a facilitator and a curator,” Artes Mundi director Karen Mackinnon wrote in a statement.

After receiving the honor, Gates announced he would share the prize money with the other shortlisted artists, saying, “Let’s split this [thing]!”