Shortly after it was announced that the 20th Serpentine Pavilion would open on June 11 after a year-long delay with an installation by Counterspace, a promising architecture studio from Johannesburg, the gallery has already teased next year’s commission. Serpentine will tap into the talents of American urban planner-turned-artist Theaster Gates, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts who’s known for his civic activism and socially minded practice. While the gallery won’t yet reveal details of Gates’s installation, his oeuvre may offer insight into what’s in store.
Next year marks the first time that Serpentine has trusted a non-architect with the pavilion, but Gates is no stranger to built projects. The Chicago-born artist founded the Rebuild Foundation in his hometown as a hub to launch a variety of urban improvement projects, initially aimed at the city’s downtrodden South Side. His cumulative efforts have arguably been more impactful—in terms of staying power and scope—than any social practice enterprise since that realm of art took shape in the mid-aughts. Around 2010, Gates started buying abandoned buildings in the South Side’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood for as little as $1. These he renovated to establish community arts and culture centers with rich resources, ranging from multimedia libraries to exhibition spaces, to a cinema featuring films starring or made by people of the African diaspora.