Previous Exhibitions - Smart Museum of Art -- University of Chicago

Go Figure

June 30, 2011 - September 4, 2011

The human form has endured as a powerful subject throughout the history of art. This episodic exhibition illustrates pivotal moments in figurative art of the last sixty years through the work of nine exceptional artists: Nick Cave, Leon Golub, Yun-Fei Ji, Kerry James Marshall, Christina Ramberg, Martín Ramírez, Ravinder Reddy, Clare Rojas, and Sylvia Sleigh.

Despite their varied approaches to media and subject, these artists are bound by their sustained engagement with the human figure and by their use of pattern as a visual strategy to enhance, entice, or complicate our viewing experience. Go Figure brings together exemplary paintings, drawings, and sculpture from the Smart Museum and other collections throughout Chicago. Together, these works explore issues of identity, personal history, and social change and, in doing so, reveal the versatile capacity of art to capture the diversity and complexity of contemporary human experience.

The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900

February 10, 2011 - June 5, 2011

This exhibition examines two centuries of works intertwined with emotion—from the sacrifice of classical heroines to the grief of ordinary people, from martyred saints to actors in tragic roles—and explores how art’s cathartic power grows or fades for new generations of viewers. With over forty paintings, sculptures, and prints, The Tragic Muse combines works from the Smart’s collection—both long-held treasures and new acquisitions—with important loans from the Art Institute of Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, and Tate.

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan

September 30, 2010 – January 16, 2011

Carved into the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan (響堂山, pronounced “shahng-tahng-shahn”) were the crowning cultural achievement of the sixth-century Northern Qi dynasty. Once home to a magnificent array of sculptures—monumental Buddhas, elaborate attendant figures, and crouching monsters framed by floral motifs—the limestone caves were severely damaged in the first half of the twentieth century when their contents were chiseled away and offered for sale on the international art market. During the past six years, however, the caves have become the focus of a research and reconstruction project based at the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago. Combining cutting-edge 3-D imaging technology with old-fashioned scholarly work, an international team of experts has photographed and scanned the dispersed objects as well as the interior of the caves themselves.

Organized by the Smart Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Echoes of the Past represents the culmination of this extraordinary research project. It sheds new light on the original beauty and meaning of the shrines, uniting dispersed objects from Xiangtangshan—considered among the finest achievements of Chinese sculpture—with innovative digital components, including a video installation that provides an immersive, kinetic re-creation of one of the most important caves.


October 1, 2009 - January 17, 2009

Throughout the vast interior of the United States, contemporary artists are responding to the world around them and reshaping it in unexpected ways. Organized by the Smart Museum of Art and the Van Abbemuseum, this exhibition includes site-specific installations and performances as well as drawing, photography, and video from a diverse assembly of artists who are redefining the cultural terrain of the American Heartland.

Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H. C. Westermann Study Collection

April 2 - September 6, 2009

Horace Clifford (H. C.) Westermann (1922–1981) created a meticulously crafted and highly personal body of work that defies easy categorization. This comprehensive and revealing new exhibition examines Westermann’s signature themes and the convergence of his life and art. Drawing on the largely unstudied material in the Smart Museum’s H. C. Westermann Study Collection, the exhibition features finished sculptures, drawings, and prints, as well as gift objects, sketchbooks, printing blocks, tools, unfinished projects, and correspondence from Westermann’s circle of artist-friends.

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