Theaster Gates at Documenta is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

A room overseen by Theaster Gates, at Documenta 13 (Photo by Blake Gopnik)

With just minutes left in my visit to the great Documenta art festival, in Kassel, Germany, I discovered my favorite work: an abandoned old house repurposed and reinhabited by Theaster Gates and a crew from Chicago, with help from locals. They furnished various bedrooms with stylish beds and tables and wardrobes, all made from found scrap. (It was some of the best design work I've seen --like Martino Gamper's deluxe DIY, only done out of necessity.) Other rooms were rehabbed as video lounges or performance spaces.When I stopped by, Gates and some colleagues were performing classic free jazz – cello, doublebass, voices, guitars ... as well as paper ripped beside a mike. At first, I was annoyed at such obvious modernist cliches. And then I realized that this wasnt about producing great musical art. It was about the sociability that allowed the music to happen -- more like Risk played in a hippie-house than Ornette Coleman playing a gig.Gates sees art as a genuine solution to problems. He won't let a neglected building, or silent space, get the better of him. One way or another, artmaking can be used to fill both.

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