From the Smart Museum to “The Ren,” Art Is Everywhere at UChicago

An overview of what to see and where to see it, UChicago art edition

By Angélique Alexos

Due to the spread of the new Delta variant, many museums and exhibits are currently operating at limited visitor capacity and on a reservation-only basis. Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs) are still waiting for information on the structure of and possibility for in-person meetings.

Pablo Picasso is attributed as saying, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” So on days when you’re feeling a little “dusty,” why not heed these words and go see some art! Fortunately, there’s no need to travel to the Art Institute of Chicago. UChicago offers a wide variety of places for you to explore and create art right on campus.

Interested in looking at art by Picasso himself? Let’s start at the north end of campus. Nestled nearby the Court Theatre and the Department of Art History is the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, the main art museum on campus. The Smart holds a variety of works from different time periods and artistic movements, including everything from Japanese prints that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries to modern and contemporary pieces by Edgar Degas and Andy Warhol from the 20th century. The Smart Museum is also currently featuring an exhibit called Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40, which considers the idea of “the commons,” or shared resources. Through the lens of this overarching concept, the art in this exhibit explores “issues of the natural and built environments,” which have been highlighted by the pandemic. The exhibit will be on display until December 19, and reservations can be made on the museum’s website. Another exhibit, opening September 23, is titled Smart to the Core: Medium / Image. This exhibit will explore how various forms of media affect our representation and understanding of the world. In addition, the Smart Museum offers the Art to Live With program, which allows students to borrow original works from the museum’s collection to display in their dorm rooms. This event will commence with some preliminary activities starting Thursday, September 30, and will last until Sunday, October 3, when students will be able to select a work during the Art Match session. Doors open at 8 a.m., so be sure to set your alarms (or even sleep over the night before) if you want to be the proud temporary owner of a Picasso or a Matisse.

If works such as these are too recent for you, you might be interested in pieces that are a bit older…about 4,000 years old. Such pieces can be found at the Oriental Institute (OI), which sits at the end of the main quad by South University Avenue. From clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform to a human-headed winged bull (lamassu), the museum holds artifacts from places such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Until December 31, the OI also has a special exhibit called Antoin Sevruguin: Past and Present on the renowned Armenian-Iranian photographer Antoin Sevruguin, whose photographs show Iran’s shift to the modern age in the late nineteenth century. Reservations to visit this exhibit and the museum can be made on the OI website.

The main quad is also the place to find hidden gems like the Renaissance Society—or “The Ren,” as it is more commonly knownwhich is located on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall. Founded in 1915 by a group of UChicago faculty, The Ren showcases experimental works that engage with new, innovative ideas and thoughts in the worlds of art and culture. The Ren not only has art exhibits but also hosts artist talks, lectures, screenings, and concerts, among other events. An exhibit that opened September 10 (open until November 7) called Smashing Into My Heart looks at the many facets of the concept of friendship, including its relation to art. Visits to the exhibit must be reserved in advance on The Ren’s website.

A short walk from the main quad at South Woodlawn Avenue and East 58th Street, and you’ll find yourself at the Booth School of Business. Surprised? Booth actually has a large collection of modern art pieces, including works by German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and Swiss artist Olivier Mosset. On your way to Booth, take a look (or a tour, if you wish) at the adjacent building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House, the architectural style of whichknown as Prairie stylewas inspired by the American Midwest.

Farther down Woodlawn, you’ll also find the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, which also holds exhibitions in its gallery. The current exhibit is titled Carmenza Banguera: The Visible, the Laughable, and the Invisible. This three-part multimedia exhibit, created from the multicultural perspective of Afro-Colombian artist Carmenza Banguera, works in conversation with the Neubauer Collegium’s research project, “The Contours of Black Citizenship in a Global Context,” to illustrate and critique such concepts as belonging and the “gendered and racialized notion of bodily resistance.” This exhibit will be on display until October 1. The Neubauer Collegium Gallery, which has a limited capacity, is currently open to the public by appointment only. Appointments can be made on Tock.

In the mood to create some art? A hop, skip, and a jump across the Midway and a wander down East 60th Street, and you’ll be at the Logan Center for the Arts. Located on 60th Street and South Drexel Avenue, this may be the place where you’re taking your Art Core class, but it’s also a great place to create some art of your own. The Logan Center has many great places to work and create art, including practice rooms, the DelGiorno Terrace, and the Central Courtyard. Café Logan is also a great spot to study and relax. Of course, the Logan Center is also home to art of its own, including a wide variety of student pieces. From installations to concerts, it’s one of the best places to be when it comes to viewing new, exciting art. Current exhibits include Wall of Blues: Photos by Paul Natkin (September 16–December 10) and Carrie Mae Weems: A Land of Broken Dreams (July 17–December 12). The Weems exhibit is part of the *oward Common Cause exhibit at the Smart Museum, and tickets can be reserved online.

If you’re up for a bit farther of a walk, the Arts Incubator at East Garfield Boulevard and South Prairie Avenue is a great space to find not only exhibitions but talks, artist residencies, and community-based activities as well. It is also the center of the Art + Public Life (APL) initiative, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. APL works to strengthen ties between the University and South Side communities through the arts, artistic programs, and arts education, among other goals.

If all this talk of art has you wondering how you can further participate, why not join one of the many art RSOs or publications on campus! From drawing to writing, there’s a plethora of student groups that will allow you to pursue any and every artistic interest or passion, no matter your skill level.

In addition to student groups, there are also many art-related activities and events that occur year-round on campus. One exciting student-run, collaborative event is the Festival of the Arts (FOTA), which is a campus-wide tradition celebrating art and artists in all forms. This weeklong event includes all types of artistic expression from live performances to interactive activities like workshops and open mic nights. While the dates for this year have yet to be determined, those interested in participating and being part of the FOTA board or the FOTA Fellowship program can check the FOTA website or Facebook page for updates.

When the stress of day-to-day to-dos have you in a rut, take a walk around campus and engross yourself in some art. Whatever era or style you’re interested in, the many exhibits, museums, and year-round student activities are sure to wash away any accumulated dust.