Many University of Chicago students who cross the quads daily don’t know that one of the nation’s most renowned contemporary art exhibition centers is three stories above their Spanish classroom in Cobb or that a nearly 3,000-year-old, 40-ton Assyrian lamassu (winged bull) is just across the street from the benches where they eat lunch on the east side of the quads. Our University is home to a rich collection of fine art, and each year noteworthy exhibitions featuring the work of the world’s most celebrated artists as well as that of our own students flow through its galleries. But much of it is easy to miss, so keep your eyes on these venues:
The Smart Museum of Art, the University’s main art museum (just north of the intersection of East 56th Street and South Greenwood Avenue), boasts a collection of art extending across five continents and dating from the Middle Ages to the present. Perhaps most impressive is the Modern Wing, where you can contemplate the works of Rothko, Matisse, and Rodin. A new exhibition, State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, celebrating conceptual art movements born out of the counterculture ’60s and ’70s California spirit will be on display at the Smart from October 3 through January 12. A smaller exhibit, Wings, Speed, and Cosmic Dominion in Renaissance Italy, focusing on representations of wings in Italian Renaissance art will be up until December 8. The Smart has its own café, a quick and easy stop for an espresso and a croissant after a walk through the galleries. Admission is free.
Hidden behind the ivy-covered walls of Cobb Hall’s fourth floor, the Renaissance Society is a hotbed for some of the nation’s most talked-about contemporary artists. “Focusing on the forefront of the visual arts,” the Society was founded as the Midwest’s response to the avant-garde art of the 1920s and ’30s in New York and Paris. Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Alexander Calder, and Jeff Koons are some of the artists who have been showcased in the Society’s lofty dwelling. Suicide Narcissus, which focuses on the ecological crisis of our time through eight artists’ work, will be at the Society until December 15. Admission is free.
To the other side of the quads lies what might be paradoxically called one of the world’s most cutting-edge institutes of ancient Near Eastern art and artifacts. Scholars from around the world come to the Oriental Institute to study ancient statues, tablets, and other archaeological finds from Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Currently showing is Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, which informs viewers about the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage during the second Iraq War. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10.
Other notable places for art viewing include the Logan Center Gallery in the new Logan Center for the Arts, where Diasporal Rhythms: A Ten Year Love Affair with Collecting Art of the African Diaspora will run from October 8 until November 9. The hallways of the Booth School of Business host an impressive collection of modern art, and after you check it out, you can see Frank Lloyd Wright’s “prairie-style” masterpiece, the Robie House, just across the street. Near East 50th Street and South Cornell Avenue, the Hyde Park Art Center promotes local artists and hosts discussions, classes, and workshops.
For budding and experienced artists alike, the University is full of organizations and groups that create and display their artwork. Notably, the Festival of the Arts (FOTA) is a week-long campus event where students can showcase their work each spring. Outside the Lines is another RSO that hosts weekly figure-drawing sessions. ArtShould promotes art education and programming in Chicago Public Schools in the Hyde Park community. Artist, art historian, or “just interested,” UChicago has something that will strike your fancy and maybe even call you back again and again.