Margaret Burns

BA Honors | Art History


An Art History major and Glynn Family Honors Program minor from San Antonio, Texas, I look forward to pursuing a career in the curatorial field. I am passionate about the ability of art to tell stories, start difficult conversations, promote change and inspire empathy. In my research, I investigate how artists respond to diverse political, economic, and social situations in their work. My (current) favorite artwork is Alma Thomas’s Starry Night and the Astronauts (1972) on view at the Art Institute. In my free time, I love to spend time with family and friends, read short fiction, and care for my many houseplants.


My thesis examines the work of contemporary artist Theaster Gates, focusing on how his practice addresses and manipulates diverse social, political, and artistic systems. Gates utilizes institutional patronage, government power, and the sale of his own artwork to transform abandoned properties throughout Chicago’s South Side into community spaces, archives, affordable housing complexes, micro-libraries, etc. Gates’s manufactured ecosystems of capital enable him to redistribute wealth to marginalized communities, connecting the South Side to resources and opportunity.

My thesis considers Gates within a larger art historical context, connecting his work to social practice artists and other systems-minded artists like Hans Haacke. By applying a systems-based approach to socially engaged artistic practice, Gates is able to channel institutional and market forces to redistribute resources to his South Side community through urban interventions that function as both artworks and as centers for education, habitation, and growth. 

'To Fund the Struggle': Theaster Gates and Systemic Practice

Listening House (left) and Archive House (right), Chicago, IL

2006-present (ongoing)

Installation view of 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany

Mixed media, installation | 2012

Bank Bond

Carved marble | 6¼ by 8⅞ by ⅞ in | 2013

Migration Rickshaw for Sleeping, Playing, and Building

Wood, fabric, metal, plastic, Huguenot House remnants | 68 x 104 x 46 inches | 2013