13th Ballad, an installation by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, is an extension of the artist’s 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, which was co-produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago for Documenta (13), the international art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. For 13th Ballad, Gates creates a new large-scale installation in the MCA’s Kovler Atrium that comprises objects and materials from the Huguenot House, along with a monumental double cross sculpture and carved wooden pews which create an ecclesiastical ambience to suggest that art museums, like churches, are sites of pilgrimage and thoughtful contemplation. 13th Ballad is accompanied at the MCA by a series of collaborative performances and is on view from May 18 to October 6, 2013. The exhibition is coorganized by Michael Darling, MCA James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, and Kristin Korolowicz, Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow.
Theaster Gates’ practice includes performance, sculpture, installation, and large-scale urban interventions. He created 12 Ballads for Huguenot House as part of his ongoing efforts toward architectural and social rejuvenation in his South Chicago neighborhood, such as his refurbishment of an abandoned store into a studio and house for himself on Dorchester Avenue. This effort was expanded to an abandoned house nearby, which the artist and a team of laborers from the neighborhood prepared for renovation and rebirth as a cultural center, and used the repurposed materials to make both functional objects and purely aesthetic creations.
For 12 Ballads, Gates used those items and materials in the renovation of a dilapidated historic building in Kassel called the Huguenot House, resulting in a poetic exchange of material and music. Before the Huguenot’s sister house in Chicago was carefully disassembled, Gates’ collaborators, the Black Monks of Mississippi, recorded a series of songs and performances in the South Side home, footage of which was screened in Kassel and accompanied by another set of performances. The MCA Screen gallery reprises these key aspects of 12 Ballads for Huguenot House. Functional objects Gates and his team created for Documenta (13) are showcased along with preparatory drawings and other ephemera.
For the atrium installation, Gates repurposed a set of pews from Bond Chapel, the University of Chicago’s campus church. The pews were removed from the chapel in order to offer Muslim students a place to pray, a symbolic gesture of religious tolerance that resonates with the religious persecution of the Huguenots, members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, who were forced to flee to Protestant nations such as Prussia (modern-day Germany) between the 16th and 18th centuries.
13th Ballad is accompanied by a series of three collaborative performances entitled The Accumulative Affects of Migration 1-3, with Yaw Agyeman, Khari Lemuel, Tomeka Reid, Joshua Abrams, Mikel Avery, Orron Kenyatta and friends from the Chicago classical music community. University of Chicago scholar David Levin, musician and composer Michael Drayton, and Theaster Gates create a new body of music based on the work of 19th-century composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots and Delta blues musician Muddy Waters.