Smart Museum of Art expands perspectives with major reinstallation of its collection

Launch of Expanding Narratives kicks off three-year exhibition series

Expanding Narratives
Guests attend the opening reception for the spring 2018 exhibitions at the Smart Museum of Art.
Photo by
John Zich
C.J. Lind
Associate Director of CommunicationsSmart Museum of Art

The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art announced a major reinstallation of its collection and the launch of Expanding Narratives, a three-year, three-part collections and exhibitions series.

The new series combines loans from UChicago alumni and Chicago-area collectors with works from the Smart’s collection. It offers a means to examine the content and role of the Museum’s collection, and the ways in which the addition of new works, particularly works by women and artists of color, can shift and expand narrative possibilities.

On view until Dec. 30, 2018, Expanding Narratives: The Figure and the Ground is the first version of the series, and will look at the formal relationship between human figures and the background of a work, offering a more inclusive approach to the art historical canon by giving pride of place to artists like Sam Gilliam, Lee Krasner, Kerry James Marshall, Joan Mitchell, Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman, Sylvia Sleigh, Kara Walker and Jack Whitten.

The exhibition will also incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives through the work of the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry. Over the course of the exhibition, faculty from departments across the University will share interpretations of individual works, furthering the celebration of alternative voices and diverse points of view.

“As we look to the future, the Expanding Narratives series will offer a transparent platform for us to consider what constitutes a great university art museum collection in the 21st century,” said Alison Gass, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum.

Smart Museum
(Photo by John Zich)

In preparation for the reinstallation, the Smart will be reconfigured by demolishing a long interior wall that has been in place for nearly 20 years. The new large, open space will offer opportunities to display large scale-works, and will ask visitors to consider themselves as a figure against the newly considered ground of the gallery.

“We don’t have the space to tell an encyclopedic history all at once,” Gass said. “But we can be flexible and build an exhibitions and collections program that positions us as a site of critical debate, reflective of the academic excellence and global impact of the University.”

“The Expanding Narratives series provides an opportunity to ask: How can we develop an inclusive collecting strategy that reflects and challenges the issues and questions shared by our community? How can we build a collection and program that sparks connections and dialogue?” said Michael Christiano, deputy director and curator of public practice.

The second chapter in the Expanding Narratives series will open in spring 2019 and will focus on how museums, collectors, scholars and artists are re-inscribing African-American artists and artists of the African Diaspora into the canon of art history.

The third and final chapter in 2020 will include an ambitious global history of art. The project will be installed chronologically with works from around the globe grouped together to examine critical points of intersection among people and cultures.

Along with the reinstallation, the Smart recently launched a new two-year fellowship to help expand the professional fields of art history and museum practice to include individuals from traditionally underrepresented populations.