Dunking the Brush: Visual Arts on Campus

Whether you’re looking to make art or appreciate it, the UChicago campus is brimming with opportunities for you to make happy little accidents.


By Perri Wilson

It can be easy to forget that your brain has a right half when you’ve been staring at a P-set all day, and the Core does not exactly leave room for many arts classes. But that doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the tactile joys of making art. There are plenty of (often hidden) ways to give your left brain a break and pick up a paintbrush, or maybe just admire someone else’s creations.

Seeing art doesn’t have to involve a trek downtown (although the trek is worth it). With half an hour to spare, why not drop by one of the many museums right on campus? Tucked away in an unassuming courtyard right next to Campus North, the Smart Museum of Art is the University’s main art museum, harboring a collection of works ranging from 12th-century Korean bowls to 20th-century Warhols, Paschkes, and Matisses. Their recent special exhibit, The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960-1980, garnered national attention. Upcoming exhibits include Meleko Mokgosi’s 20-panel installation, Bread, Butter, and Power, which tells a story of sexism in southern Africa; and Down Time: On the Art of Retreat, opening October 25, was conceived and curated by a group of students.

But, perhaps the occasional trip to the museum isn’t enough to satiate your fine-art cravings. Have no fear! Thanks to its Art Match program, if you arrive at the museum early enough on October 6, you might bring home a Miró or Picasso to hang in your dorm room! The museum also encourages visitors to create their own works through frequent programming, including drawing workshops and after-hours parties, often complete with crafts tables.

Walking into the Renaissance Society, hidden on the fourth floor of Cobb, always feels like happening upon a long-lost treasure in the attic. This small, independent museum is on Atlas Obscura’s list of attractions to check out in Chicago. Since 1915, the Renaissance Society has been known for its “experimental ethos,” and regularly features contemporary artists from around the world. This fall, the space will be home to LaToya Ruby Frazier’s new body of work, titled The Last Cruze, which documents the stories of workers and their families in a recently “unallocated” GM plant in Ohio.

The Oriental Institute, meanwhile, boasts a collection of slightly older works—ancient Middle Eastern artifacts—showcasing the Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu), a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll, and a massive statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, among other historical pieces. If you’re reading The Epic of Gilgamesh for first-year Hum, put down your tired translation and check out the original: 4,000-year-old Babylonian cuneiform tablets (circa 2,000 B.C.E.)! There are so many ways to experience the museum: Stride through its galleries for the sake of the beautiful sculptures, or pause and read every plaque for a thorough historical understanding.

The Logan Center for the Arts, located at 60th Street and Drexel Avenue, opened in 2012 and is a thriving center of campus art featuring both professional and student work. The building is teeming with things to see and hear—from the unexpected student installations and drawings taped to the walls to concerts and plays. Every year, Logan Center Exhibitions’ dynamic exhibition cycle brings international contemporary artists for shows and exciting programming at the Logan Center Gallery, right at the building’s north entrance. Their current show, Tufting Gun Tapestries, will showcase collaborative textile experiments by the architecture group Assemble. Just across the lobby, Café Logan doubles as a popular study spot and exhibition space; its current show highlights 30 years’ worth of photographs taken by the Chicago Alliance of African American Photographers documenting the African Festival of the Arts. Any time you find yourself at the Logan Center, you should take a minute to visit the 20 prints from Matisse’s Jazz, on view in the basement. You can get your bearings of all that the Logan Center has to offer at the hotly attended Logan Center O-Week welcome party, featuring free snacks, swag, and performances.

Wander into the Booth School of Business to view their surprisingly substantial collection of modern art, including works by contemporary German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and DoVA faculty members William Pope.L and Laura Letinsky. 

On the other end of Woodlawn, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society holds exhibitions in its gallery. This fall, see Martha Rosler: Passionate Signals, which explores the legendary feminist video and photo artist’s works from a novel, “green” angle.

Although a bit farther than the rest, the Arts Incubator on 301 East Garfield Boulevard hosts exhibitions, artist residencies, community-centered arts events and activities, and arts education. Envisioned by artist and UChicago faculty member Theaster Gates, it houses the Arts + Public Life initiative, which seeks to strengthen the University’s relationship with the South Side’s artistic and civic communities.

Arts RSOs

If Winston Churchill could paint in his free time, so can you. While some arts RSOs have requirements and shows, there are also plenty of laid-back ways to get messy and creative.

Festival of the Arts (FOTA) orchestrates a campus-wide jubilee of student art and hosts workshops, performances, and gallery openings throughout the year. If you have an ambitious vision, or a project you’re eager to complete, FOTA can help provide the resources to do so, along with a supportive community of fellow artists. Keep an eye out for information about their fall show and how to get involved. Drop by Logan every Thursday evening and join Outside the Lines at their weekly figure-drawing workshops, where seasoned pros sketch alongside those who have never drawn a live model before; pop in for 10 minutes on your way to dinner, or delve into a pose for two hours. Kitchen Sink, a group dedicated to fostering the student art community, hosts free four-hour art-making sessions every Wednesday night in Logan’s Great Hall on the second floor. Like Outside the Lines, you are encouraged to drop by for any amount of time and put their materials (and snacks) to use. If you’re lucky enough to register for a spot in UChicago Ceramics’ first-come, first-serve studio sessions, you’ll be able enjoy creating clay crafts once a week at the Hyde Park Arts Center. Meanwhile, members of ArtShould spend their afternoons teaching art classes at nearby Chicago Public Schools, and organize workshops as well as fundraising events.