Did You See This?

How to Find Stories in the Record and Book Collections People Left Behind

Theaster Gates’ unique pursuit.

When Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates explains, in the short feature above, what fascinates him about the discarded collections he turns into art, it’s easy to see his point: Each collection tells you in intimate detail just how its collector saw the world at a particular time. “I spend a lot of time looking for the personality of people within their collection,” Gates says in the video. He creates intricately detailed portraits from, well, old stuff that once meant something to someone.

The video is part of Art21’s Summer of Shorts, a 10-week presentation of one exclusive new short film each Friday through Aug. 4.

Of all the pieces, Gates’ creation from old issues of Jet might be the most incredible. Bound into books and lined up together, the magazines are organized by decade, each of which acts as a rectangle in a monochromatic painting. Except each section of this painting can be pulled out and opened, revealing the story of an entire period, all from the point of view of the contemporary black community.