The University of Chicago News Office
April 5, 2002 Press Contacts: Christine Carrino
(773) 702-0176

C.J. Lind
(773) 702-0766

The Smart Museum of Art presents a special exhibition of new work by Chicago-based artists

Critical Mass explores current critical art practice in Chicago through new commissions from locally-based artists. This multi-layered project includes installations on the Smart Museum’s exterior and in the Smart Museum galleries as well as other collaborative activities, performances, and public events. A public opening reception for Critical Mass on Thursday, April 25, from 5 to 7:30 pm, will kick off a two-day symposium that will explore the intersections between critical art practice and collective action. The symposium will continue through Saturday, April 27, and will include a mixture of formal presentations, discussions, and other large and small-scale activities.

Critical Mass demonstrates the potential energy that can be generated by a convergence of elements: in this case a number of visual artists who have sustained and invigorated critical art practice in Chicago through debate and collaboration. Their activities are linked to many strands of contemporary art and culture, and may overlap with other kinds of activist approaches (for instance political, community-based, new genre, littoral, or dialogical art). So although it does not describe a self-defined or perfectly cohesive approach, the term "critical art practice" is offered in a provisional attempt to clarify similarities among the training, sensibilities, and strategies of this interrelated group of artists:

    • Training: They usually hold degrees from art schools and many also teach or administrate at cultural institutions.
    • Sensibilities: They pursue an ethical, self-reflective practice and are committed to social engagement. They consider how their activities resonate both within and beyond the art world and its institutions, and bring an activist sensibility to their work. They have developed critical, sophisticated, and socially engaged ways of working.
    • Strategies: They try experimental approaches and tend to adopt open-ended processes, often involving collaboration with other individuals or groups and sometimes moving beyond the art world. They have updated strategies that were widely deployed by conceptual and community-based artists in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and then refined at intervals through the ‘80s and ‘90s: emphasizing idea as well as object, process as well as product, social responsibility as well as aesthetic resonance. They may or may not choose to label their activities as "art."

Critical Mass offers a mix of the "generations" and perspectives that have contributed to the current vitality of critical art practice in Chicago, and includes artists and groups who have worked here for years, newcomers from other cities, and emerging artists. Participating artists include Wendy Jacob and Laurie Palmer, members of the Chicago-based artists' collective Haha and respectively Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Associate Professor of Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Robert Peters, Associate Professor of Art at the University of Chicago; Gregory Sholette, a founding member of the collective RepoHistory and Chair of the Department of Arts Administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Temporary Services, a group that includes Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin, Marc Fischer, and Lora Lode. Although all of these artists participate in international art discourse, they have chosen to base their practices here and as a result their histories and interests have intermingled in complex and productive ways as part of the larger critical mass.

Critical Mass was conceived for the Smart Museum by Associate Curator Stephanie Smith and organized in close collaboration with Education Director Jacqueline Terrassa. The project's components have been developed and refined through an ongoing series of meetings of the participating artists, educator, and curator. These meetings both echo and reinforce the project's themes. They have provided a structure for productive, critical discussions among participants, have generated innovative methods of helping visitors engage and enjoy contemporary art, and have led to additional collaborations with institutions within and beyond the University of Chicago. Related courses are being offered at the University of Chicago’s Midway Studios (Brett Bloom’s "Alternative Curatorial Practice: Curating for Riots and Other Extreme Situations") and through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Gregory Sholette’s "Extreme Arts Administration.")

Related Activities in Chicago

Various strands of activist cultural practice will be explored by many different Chicago institutions this spring: an unplanned but dynamic convergence of interests.

  • Gregg Bordowitz: Drive (April 5—July 7, 2002). This exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art presents work by Chicago-based video and filmmaker Gregg Bordowitz. It includes a gallery installation and screenings of two videos that together document the evolution of AIDS activism from the streets of New York City in the early 1990s to the Thirteenth International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2000. Bordowitz will design a citywide poster campaign extending the museum project into the public realm and the MCA has organized a series of related programs. For more information visit
  • Act/Art: Art with Community (April 18—May 6, 2002). Organized by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Visiting Artist Program, this lecture series investigates how art programs can genuinely become integrated into various types of ‘communities’ to serve social, educational, therapeutic, and aesthetic ends. The program also includes a panel discussion organized by artist John Ploof on April 20th. For more information visit or call 312.443.3711.
  • Version .02: Sampling the Digital Subculture (April 18—20, 2002). This event, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, is "an unprecedented convergence of practitioners in the global digital arts community." Co-presented by the MCA and Infrared. Call 312.799.3533 for a complete schedule.
  • Intellectuals: Who Needs Them? (April 19—20, 2002). This free public conference supports "social change, promotes a more engaged civil society, fosters coalitions between activists and academics, and combats anti-intellectualism." Co-presented by the Center for Public Intellectuals and the University of Illinois, Chicago. For more information visit the conference website at



The Smart Museum of Art is located on the campus of the University of Chicago.

Smart Museum of Art Hours: 10 am - 4 pm Tue, Wed, Fri

University of Chicago 10 am - 9 pm Thursday

5550 South Greenwood Ave. Noon - 6 pm Sat, Sun

Chicago, IL 60637 Café and Museum Shop open daily

773.702.0200 Galleries closed Monday Admission is free

Summer Hours: 10 am - 4 pm Tue - Fri

(begin June 11) 11 am - 5 pm Sat, Sun

Critical Mass is presented in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Special Exhibition Gallery. The exhibition and related programs are supported by a grant from UchicagoArts through the Arts Planning Council, the Division of Humanities, and the Cultural Policy Program, University of Chicago. Additional support is provided by the Smart Family Foundation; Nuveen Investments; the Regents Park / University of Chicago Fine Arts Partnership; the Chicago Community Trust; the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; the Visiting Committee on the Visual Arts, University of Chicago; and Friends of the Smart Museum.

Critical Mass: related events at the Smart Museum

Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and open to the public.


Opening Reception

Thursday, April 25, 5 — 7:30 pm

All are welcome at this celebration, which opens the exhibition and kicks off the symposium.

At 5:30 pm, join Alan Moore, one of the founders of the New York alternative space ABC No Rio, for a dynamic overview of thirty years of critical, collaborative art practice in the United States. Artist Gregory Sholette will respond. Ongoing festivities will include a multi-media performance by the Chicago-based collective People’s Republic of Delicious Food and video screenings organized by Temporary Services.


Symposium: Critical Practice and Collective Action

Thursday, April 25 — Saturday, April 27

Through a mixture of formal presentations, discussions, meals, and other large and small-scale activities, this event will explore the intersections between critical art practice and collective action. This lively environment will foster critical analysis, creative networking, and friendly conversation. The event starts with the opening reception Thursday night. Other activities will include:

  • discussion of a set of questions about collaboration, developed by the Chicago-based artists’ collective Haha
  • fieldtrips organized by artist Laurie Palmer
  • a lecture by Brian Holmes, a critic and member of the French artists’ collective Ne Pas Plier
  • carnivalesque activities organized by students in courses taught by Brett Bloom at the University of Chicago and by Gregory Sholette at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, including a presentation by Kate Fowle of the British curatorial team Smith & Fowle
  • a gallery talk by exhibiting artists
  • formal and informal, large and small group discussions
  • ongoing video screenings organized by Temporary Services
  • a pot-luck meal organized by Temporary Services
  • closing comments by art historian and former editor of Afterimage Grant Kester, with a response by Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Program, University of Chicago, and a wrap-up group discussion
  • and more!

Visit the museum’s website ( or call 773.702.4540 for more details and a complete schedule of events.


Artists’ Gallery Talks

Sunday, May 12, 1:30 pm

Laurie Palmer

Sunday, May 19, 1:30 pm

Temporary Services

Sunday, June 9, 1:30 pm

Robert Peters


Lunchtime Exhibition Tour

Friday, May 17, 12:10 — 12:40 pm

Take a break from your usual lunch routine and join Associate Curator Stephanie Smith and Education Director Jackie Terrassa for a tour of the exhibition. Bring a lunch or buy one at the museum café.


Video Screenings

Sunday, May 19, 2:30 pm and

Thursday, June 6, 6:30 pm

Curated by Temporary Services as part of its project on group activity, these screenings will document a range of radical practices, including interventions and actions by artists, activists, musicians, and others.


Artists’ Family Tour

Sunday, June 2, 1:30 pm

Join exhibiting artist Greg Sholette, Janet Koenig and their daughter Ariana for a tour of the exhibition and a lively conversation about what it's like to be part of a family of artists. Enjoy tasty treats following the program.


Open Forum

Sunday, June 23, 2:00 pm

On the final day of the exhibition, join the artists, Smart Museum staff, and other participants for an informal group discussion about Critical Mass. Help us assess the project and brainstorm ways that the exhibition might inform future projects at the Smart Museum.
Last modified at 12:11 PM CST on Friday, April 05, 2002.

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