Using the $100,000 he won as part of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s 2018 Nasher Prize, Theaster Gates bought himself a printer. Not your ordinary inkjet printer—not even a cutting-edge 3D printer—but a German-made, Heidelberg Windmill printing press.It has taken up residence in the Chicago-based artist’s studio as the mechanical heart of his new publishing arm, Black Madonna Press, and a similar machine has been set up at the Basler Papiermühle, the Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing, as part of Gates’s four-city series of exhibitions focusing on the theme of the Black Madonna. Based on the image of the Virgin Mary with dark skin found in many Medieval works across Europe, it launches this month at both venues of the Kunstmuseum Basel (until 21 October), along with live performances, recordings and printing workshops at other venues in the city. The series continues at Hannover’s Sprengel Museum (from 22 June 2018) and Munich’s Haus der Kunst (from October 2018). We spoke to the artist about the project.
The Art Newspaper: Why did you decide to start the Black Madonna Press?
Theaster Gates: I learned bookbinding when I was in the craft world, making my own books and small journals, but also starting to play with restoration. So printing and book art has always been on my mind, and all of the amazing work of the concrete poets and Carl Andre and 1970s typewriter art. I just love that world as its own alternative genre of conceptual practices that were emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I had been looking for my way in, having this background with spoken word, and it was really through this exhibition in Basel, also titled Black Madonna, that I had the idea of reflecting on sacred texts and on the black woman as a theme worth disseminating. In some ways, the Black Madonna Press takes its cues from the Johnson Publishing Company, and a lot of the original content that we produce will actually be content inspired by, or images appropriated from, the Johnson Publishing collection.