Artist, DOVA chair Jessica Stockholder champions contemporary art at UChicago

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

This fall, visitors to the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art will be greeted by color. Vibrant swaths of red, green and yellow reach up the walls of the lobby and spill out into the museum courtyard. Everyday materials like lamps, extension cords and sticks dangle in unusual ways from the ceiling and clerestory.

The installation, Rose’s Inclination, is the work of Jessica Stockholder, the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Visual Arts.

In the writing that accompanies Rose’s Inclination, Stockholder hints at the vision behind the piece, describing “Rose” as a living force, whose inclination “is to reach up and out. She slips under and over, and weaves into the landscape while flapping towards the sky…The cumulus cloud of subjectivity that is each one of us—clattering words in mind and falling out of mouth—feelings in body, filling self-awareness and driving action—pass through her rosy glow.”

Yet Stockholder also encourages visitors to develop their own interpretations and experiences of the piece. “I don’t worry about what people take away from my work,” she said. “From my point of view, the work is about the relationship between picture-making and physical experience, and it’s also about the relationship between abstraction, thought, human invention and the nature of our experience. What you make of the work is your business.”

The opening of Rose’s Inclination on Sept. 12 at the Smart Museum is also part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. It is just one of a number of possible sites to view Stockholder’s work in what promises to be a remarkable autumn for Stockholder. In addition to the Smart Museum, her work will be shown at the renowned Kavi Gupta Gallery, at the international contemporary art exposition EXPO Chicago on Sept. 17 to 20, and at MK Restaurant. “For someone who wants to travel to all four different venues, you’ll see all the different parts of what I do,” Stockholder said.

Expanding the reach of the arts

Stockholder, who is known for work that lies at the intersection of painting and sculpture, came to UChicago from Yale in 2011. With the opening of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts just a year away, it was a transitional period for the Department of Visual Arts. Stockholder recognized a program on the rise: the new building and the opportunities it provided to DOVA faculty promised to bring greater visibility than ever before to contemporary art at UChicago. Since the opening of the Logan Center, “people are more aware of us,” Stockholder explained.

As chair, Stockholder has sought to further raise the profile of the arts for the broader campus community—continuing, she described it, “the effort to articulate why it is that the arts matter from our point of view as artists.” She has also embraced the University’s emphasis on interdisciplinary projects, working with the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.

In Stockholder, DOVA faculty said they have found both a champion of their work and a valued interlocutor.

“Jessica brings a sense of intense dedication and earnestness to her work at the University that is tempered by a wonderfully experimental, playful sensibility. It's just about impossible for me to imagine a better chair for an art department at a research university,” said Matthew Jesse Jackson, associate professor in visual arts, art history and the College. “Jessica makes other people better at what they already do best, and that's about the highest accolade I can ever give to anyone.”

Laura Letinsky, professor in visual arts, highlighted Stockholder’s efforts to expand the reach of the arts at UChicago. “[Her] methodology perfectly meshes with an understanding of art as part of a broader conversation across disciplines and practices, in which studio art work is tantamount to the kind of academic work done in the humanities and sciences—that is, generated out of curiosity, provocation and inquiry, with the result engaging both ethics and aesthetics,” she said.

A blockbuster fall

In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities within the Department of Visual Arts, Stockholder has been active in her own practice during her time at UChicago. Her 2012 installation “Color Jam” brought a splash of color to the streets of the Chicago Loop. Like Rose’s Inclination, “Color Jam” transformed viewers’ experience of everyday space, spilling out vivid hues across sidewalks and up walls.

Stockholder’s solo exhibition Door Hinges, which features a site-specific installation as well as a collection of sculptural works, will open at the Kavi Gupta Gallery on Sept. 12. Stockholder described Door Hinges, her first solo show in Chicago in 24 years, as “layered and ambitious.” Her installation Celestial Season—a cloudlike structure made up of translucent plastic baskets—will show at EXPO Chicago, along with the work of numerous UChicago-affiliated artists.

Stockholder also has worked to develop the Neubauer Collegium project Open Fields, alongside Prof. Justin Richland and Field Museum curator Alaka Wali, a 2015-2016 Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow. The project, which seeks to explore the nature of exhibition, and the representation of Native American art and material culture in American museums, will hold its kickoff event at the Neubauer Collegium on Oct. 13.

Rose’s Inclination, Stockholder’s first major piece to be shown on the University of Chicago campus, was “a particularly exciting commission,” according to Anthony Hirschel, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum of Art. “Stockholder’s work animates and inhabits the Museum’s Ratner Gallery in an entirely new way,” Hirschel said. “She introduces color, motion and texture to a space defined by modernist symmetry and clean lines. Rose’s Inclination encourages visitors to look up and experience the space anew, and also to consider the relationship of the Smart’s interior to its courtyard.”

Artists, teachers, colleagues

Stockholder emphasized that her high-profile exhibitions are part of a larger trend among her colleagues in the Department of Visual Arts. “All of the faculty in DOVA show all over the country and internationally,” she said. Prof. Geof Oppenheimer’s first solo museum exhibition will be featured at Northwestern University’s Block Museum this fall, while Prof. Catherine Sullivan’s new opera will premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Prof. William Pope L.’s Trinket was featured at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art this spring. In the stretch of just a few months, Prof. Theaster Gates showed his Freedom of Assembly at the White Cube gallery, received the prestigious Artes Mundi Prize and will celebrate the opening of the Stony Island Arts Bank as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Stockholder said working alongside such a diverse group of artists has helped shape her own practice. “My work and my thinking has been influenced by the fact that I’m in such close dialogue with people whose work is quite different than mine,” she said.

For Stockholder, the department faculty’s active practice was a primary motivation for coming to the University four years ago. “There are many universities where there are great teachers. But to be in a department where the faculty are committed to being great teachers, which this faculty is, and they’re ambitious, serious, successful artists—it’s unusual, and really nice to be a part of.”

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