Genius at Work: 29 MacArthur Fellows Show Their Art in Chicago

Ted Loos, New York Times, July 13, 2021

“Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40” includes more than two dozen shows and specially commissioned installations.


“Toward Common Cause” officially opens Thursday, but the exhibition start dates are staggered, with some already on view and others coming in the fall.



Two of the main group exhibitions, at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and the Stony Island Arts Bank, open this week and will feature around a dozen artists each, including Nicole Eisenman, David Hammons, Trevor Paglen and Carrie Mae Weems.


The exhibition was initiated and funded by MacArthur with $1.23 million in grants to its organizing partner, the Smart; around $500,000 in additional funding and in-kind support came from other donors.


Though social practice is all over the art world these days, it’s rarely seen at this scale. “In a way, the show is a single social practice work,” said Don Meyer, the MacArthur senior program officer for the fellows program.


But organizing so many stakeholders has challenges. “Partnerships are really hard,” said Abigail Winograd, the curator hired by MacArthur to organize the show, almost four years in the making. “This is why museums don’t normally do this — it’s insane.”

Physically, “Toward Common Cause” spreads over not only traditional gallery spaces but also housing projects and bus shelters.


“We want to meet people where they are,” Winograd said.

Paradoxically, a show of artists celebrated for their individual accomplishments is intentionally diffuse, collaborative and community-oriented, but that fits the theme, an exploration of how resources can be shared.


“The 19th-century idea of the lone genius has faded, and collaboration is seen as increasingly important,” Meyer said.


Winograd ran with the idea, and then some. “In a way, it’s a crowdsourced curation,” she said. “I’ve even ceded control to teenagers.”


Participants in the Smart Museum’s teen program had input on the banners created by the Los Angeles-based painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby, which are on the exteriors of both the future home of the National Public Housing Museum as well as the Minnie Riperton Apartments, part of the Chicago Housing Authority.


“The teens carried this project,” Akunyili Crosby wrote in an email, noting that during their remote working relationship, they even did location scouting. After looking at some of her previous work, the teenagers settled on what she called scenes of “intimate family moments and spaces.”


Akunyili Crosby said that for exterior works that would be up for months, she knew she wanted to have a “partnership with Chicagoans,” adding, “They should have a say.”

of 1339