The Renaissance Society, the non-collecting museum on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall, has undergone many transformations in its more than century-long existence.
Begun in 1915 at the University of Chicago to “stimulate study of the art of the present time,” the museum became one of the country’s most important contemporary arts institutions, featuring works by Gaugin, Matisse, Picasso and Calder. In the last half-century, it has premiered projects by prominent artists, including future UChicago faculty Jessica Stockholder and William Pope.L.
Today, its reputation for ambitious exhibitions has made it a destination for artists seeking to experiment and have their work seen on a global scale. Among the recent successes are works featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Art Institute of Chicago.
“We give artists a chance to produce new work,” said Solveig Øvstebø, the Renaissance Society’s executive director and chief curator since 2013. “We are so happy to see that the artworks often go on to live their lives in other institutions and museums, where they are encountered by even more audiences.”
B. Ingrid Olson is a Chicago-based artist who benefitted from the chance to experiment. Several pieces from her recent exhibition at the Renaissance Society were purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City after a MOMA curator to see her show at UChicago.
Olson, who first visited the Renaissance Society as an art student while at School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, said the support and exposure she received were instrumental in developing her recent project.
“I had the option to show work already in existence, but there was encouragement and support, intellectually and financially, to conceive and produce something that I hadn't yet realized,” Olson said. “It would have been really difficult, if not impossible, to proceed with making the new works on my own.”
Olson joins a growing list of artists with works commissioned by the Renaissance Society that have recently gone on to major museums, including Kevin Beasley’s Your Face Is/Is Not Enough (2016), which has gone to the Tate Modern in London; and Mathias Poledna’s film Substance (2014), acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago.