Ground rules. Free throw

Copied Theaster Gates, Ground rules. Free throw, 2015, wooden flooring, 120 × 180 in. (304.8 × 457.2 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2017.40, © 2015, Theaster Gates

Artwork Details

Ground rules. Free throw
Not on view
120 × 180 in. (304.8 × 457.2 cm)
© 2015, Theaster Gates
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
Mediums Description
wooden flooring
  • Recreation — sport and play — basketball
  • Abstract
Object Number

Artwork Description

Theaster Gates's art tells American history through forgotten moments and overlooked places. Using the urban environment as his medium, he works with discarded castoffs of everyday life, including old tools, unwanted magazines, and abandoned buildings.

In his Ground rules series, the artist repurposes salvaged remains of gymnasium floors taken from high schools that have been decommissioned by the city of Chicago, where he lives and works. For Gates, the rules represented by the athletic markings on a gym floor are a crucial way in which children learn a larger social order; a lack of access to gyms becomes, over time, a lack of understanding of the rules both big and small.

Gates preserves the floors and subjects them to a new order. Ground rules. Free throw reorients the floor to appear as a work of art. He scrambles the planks, creating long stripes of green and flecks of black, white, red, and blue within the wooden field. As a result, he gives the heavy, scuffed floor the staccato lightness of geometric abstraction. Joining references to color field painting with movement on a basketball court, Gates merges art and sport with life in a Southside Chicago community.