Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 587. THEASTER GATES | SHE WEARS LACE ON HER RIGHT SHOULDER.


Lot Closed

October 6, 05:20 PM GMT


70,000 - 90,000 USD

Lot Details



b. 1973


wood and torchdown

72 by 72 by 5¼ in. (182.9 by 182.9 by 13.3 cm.)

Executed in 2014.

White Cube, London

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014

Visually arresting, conceptually rich, and deeply personal, She Wears Lace on Her Right Shoulder is a powerful example of Theaster Gates’s remarkable series of tar paintings. The subject of a powerful editorial the artist wrote for The Brooklyn Rail in 2016, these tar paintings represent a culmination of the personal and political themes that have preoccupied the artist throughout his celebrated career. To create these monochromatic, textural compositions, rubber and tar are applied to wood panels in the manner of a torchdown roof. Begun as a method of connecting with the traditions of his father’s trade as a roof-tarrer, they have evolved into both a formal response to the history of gestural abstraction as well as a complex symbolic investigation into mark-making as social responsibility.

In these works, Gates makes his decisions based on the proper procedures of roofing, rather than the personal aesthetic-driven process of painting, and in doing so, interrogates the boundaries between functionality and artistry. For Gates, following the “rules” of the trade to make an artistic mark is symbolic of using policy and administration to make an impactful mark on his community: the discarded industrial materials are elevated by the artist’s gesture in the same way that disenfranchised communities are elevated with the investment of time and resources. In She Wears Lace on Her Right Shoulder, the thick impasto and vertical reliefs give rise to a seductive sculptural surface, and the rich tonal density of the black tar produces a warmth that appears almost aubergine. By embracing manufacturing techniques and commercial materials, Gates appears to align his work with Minimalism, and yet its loaded conceptual framework and visible gestures draw it back toward Abstract Expressionism. This tension places his work in dialogue with modern masters like Ad Reinhardt or Agnes Martin.

Thus, tar paintings like the present work represent a crucial theoretical and practical investigation for Gates. As he has explained, “I know that the roofing trowel is necessary to bring a slight percentage of melted tar from the underside of the rubber “torch down” to create the seam that ultimately unites one roll of roofing paper and the next; but at what point does the use of the trowel for spreading tar become an artistic mark, and when does this waterproof rubber material torch down stop being the material that keeps water out and become a canvas instead? Is it not the relationship between what a roof needs and what a painting needs that defines where I imagine marks come from? With this in mind, the seams that are present in my tar works are first interesting because they accomplish the rule, and second because the seams might also constitute something beyond an understanding of how a material adheres to itself. If I marry the function of seam-making with the possibilities of the trowel, I could find myself not only able to keep water from penetrating the house (a way of sticking to the rules of roofing), but I might also find myself with a set of lines and observations from the roof that are a delight” (the artist in “The Kinds of Marks I Wish to Make: On Inventing Ways of Working,” The Brooklyn Rail, May 2016, online).