PeopleAlumnx (MFA), Class of 1975

Jeff Gates

Jeff Gates is an artist and writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. In the guise of the Chamomile Tea Party, he’s created over 250 posters on the sorry state of American political discourse. In 2018, Google Arts & Culture published a seven-part online exhibition of his work.

Public engagement is essential to Gates’ work. During the 2012 presidential election, he bought ad space in Washington, DC’s Metro, placing his posters on subway signs. During the project, he engaged commuters on the political and social issues being debated a few miles away on Capitol Hill. In 1999, concerned about online privacy, he used eBay to auction his personal demographics. After 9/11, he launched Dichotomy: It Was a Matter of Time and Place. People posted their stories from two perspectives: those affected directly by the attacks and those who witnessed the events via the media. And in 2008, much to the chagrin of even his most ardent supporters, he tweeted his root canal live to dentists across America.

During the Culture Wars of the early 1990s, Gates founded ArtFBI to study artist stereotypes in contemporary culture. He published a history of artists’ roles from the Agricultural Age to the present. And he traveled throughout the country, using artist depictions from film and TV to talk about how artists are seen in society today.

Gates taught photography and computer graphics for twenty-three years before moving to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. There he shepherded many internet initiatives as the museum enlarged its online outreach. In 2005, he launched the Smithsonian’s first blog, Eye Level. His writing and art have appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Nation. He is the author of Uneventful: The Rise of Photography, exploring photography’s evolution from the 19th to the 21st centuries.