The superstar ‘social artist’ has revived derelict buildings and rescued a legendary record collection – but in lockdown, as two new UK exhibitions show, it was singing and throwing pots that made him happy

Theaster Gates likes to get his hands dirty. His two new London exhibitions are dedicated to clay, and in one there’s a film of him singing with great gusto as he throws a pot. So it feels a shame not to be meeting one to one, but via laptop. The artist decided at the last minute to stay at home in Chicago while the shows were mounted, directing things on Zoom. (He finally made it to the UK this week; on Thursday he will give a talk with potter Magdalene Odundo.)

“I’m really mindful of my health and of the truth of these contagious times,” he tells me. “I just wanted to give myself time to be in the best shape so my body would be as resistant as possible. Even if the world is opening up, I’m happy to move slower.”

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