At this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, Prada launched Prada Mode Miami, a pop-up members-only club that featured a tightly edited program of art, music and dining.
The Italian label teamed up with Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, whose current exhibition at Milan’s Fondazione Prada, “The Black Corporation,” showcases images from Ebony and Jet magazines that helped shape the aesthetic, narrative and history of black identity in the 20th century.
“‘The Black Image Corporation’ is a redeployment of an image archive, and an attempt to wed it to fashion so that the images are amplified,” Gates explained. “And in some cases, these are images that have never been seen.
“It’s a way of celebrating the black American image, but also a way of celebrating the under-known photographers and creatives in the context for which those images were made, which is exactly this context.”
Gates’ site-specific installation at the Freehand Miami hotel, host of the inaugural Prada Mode, was an offshoot of his larger exhibition. It featured captivating black and white pictures from the aforementioned magazines that paid homage to the history of African American women.
These nuanced images reimagined the black identity and taught people about the history of black women in America at a time when they were largely invisible in mainstream media.
Activism through art
Gates took over the entire hotel space, curating bespoke furniture, pasting photographs across entire walls and projecting them onto the outside of the building. The images were full of social historical layers and are, inevitably, political.
“One of the reasons for (saying) ‘Yes’ to the project was that Ms. Prada’s hand has always been very light,” Gates said. “Her request would be like, ‘Can you do something with this space?’ And (with) that kind of openness, it feels like it allows for the best artistic response.”
Gates reworked the lobby, pool area, herb garden, lounge and restaurant, which was refurbished in furniture reflecting the aesthetic of Miami. The smallest details were taken into consideration, from the interiors and the rotating menu to the music, which, on the pop-up’s last night, featured Gates’ band Black Monks of Mississippi and DJ Peter Adjaye.
The latter’s brother, architect Sir David Adjaye, also collaborated with Gates on the third annual (RED) auction, which raised money for an HIV/AIDS charity co-founded by Bono. The pair curated auction items around the theme of “light and the color red,” which included work from artists and designers including Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, Frank Gehry and Marc Newson.
The auction took place in the Moore building, in Miami’s Design District, and raised $10.5 million for charity. It was co-organized by Sotheby’s auction house and the Gagosian gallery, which represents Gates.
Activism has always been central to Gates’ work. His projects in Miami, like others before it (such as his efforts to revitalize Chicago’s south side by turning crumbling buildings into art), uses creativity as a catalyst for hope and change.
“At it’s best, art is allowing for freedom,” Gates said. “It’s allowing an open platform where big ideas, materials and immaterial can be made manifest. But sometimes, those things have stuff to do with society in a direct (way). Other times they have to build themselves.”