Arts & Culture

Arts & Culture: Black Chapel is the Serpentine Pavilion’s platform for music, reflection, and communal initiatives for summer

LONDON, UK — Last June 10, Serpentine Galleries opened the Black Chapel, the 21st Serpentine Pavilion designed by Chicago-based installation artist Theaster Gates. The Black Chapel serves as the gallery’s annual architectural and design exhibition, drawing from many of the architectural typologies that have shaped Gates’s art and his approach to his work.

The Black Chapel references various architectural elements from around the world: bottle kilns of Stoke-on-Trent in England, the beehive kilns of the Western United States, San Pietro and the Roman tempiettos, and traditional African building structures such as the Musgum mud huts of Cameroon and the Kasabi Tombs of Kampala, Uganda.

Standing next to the Pavilion is also an operating bronze bell. The bell was salvaged from St. Laurence, a Catholic Church that was a landmark in Chicago’s South Side before its demolition. Including the historic bell in the Black Chapel installation is meant to emphasize the erasure of spaces for community and convention in urban areas and serves as a call for congregation and assembly.


Theaster also produced a new series of tar paintings especially for the Black Chapel that now hang in the interior structure. The seven-panel series that was created using roofing strategies and open flame is an ode to his father who used to be a roofer, thus incorporating Gates’ sensibilities and personal connection to the space into the structure.

“The name Black Chapel is important because it reflects the invisible parts of my artistic practice. It acknowledges the role that sacred music and the sacred arts have had on my practice, and the collective quality of these emotional and communal initiatives,” Theaster explained. “Black Chapel also suggests that in these times there could be a space where one could rest from the pressures of the day and spend time in quietude. I have always wanted to build spaces that consider the power of sound and music as a healing mechanism and emotive force that allows people to enter a space of deep reflection and deep participation.”

However, the Black Chapel goes beyond architecture as it will continue to be the platform for live programming throughout the summer, serving as a space for art, music, reflection, and human connection. To dialogue with Gates’ vision of the Black Chapel as one for gathering and the celebration of multidisciplinary artistic exploration, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Public Practice, Serpentine, Yesomi Umolu, and Guest Curator Bianca A. Manu programmed a series of live events to activate the space. 

This July’s events include a performance by The Choir of London Oratory directed by Patrick Russill, an historical and philosophical oration by Keiko Uchida, a qualified Japanese tea ceremony master, and the musical stylings of British jazz drummer, composer, record producer, bandleader, and radio host Moses Boyd.

Chief Executive Bettina Korek and Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist said, “Serpentine is proud to play a part in making Gates’ vision a reality, and for Serpentine’s Summer program to build new connections between art and society. A platform for participation, live performances, with an emphasis on music, public engagement, rituals and the intensity of togetherness, Black Chapel inspires structure and meaning.”


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