We’ve done a crazy thing. We brought in some architects to build a “space” in the middle of our museum–literally, right in the middle, taking up what would otherwise be a perfectly good gallery area. It’s been a fun challenge to explain why we’ve done this. Mostly, we’ve been starting with: “Well, it’s a flexible, open space... a hub for creative discussions...” People crinkle their brows and nod, usually say something like, “Hmmm” or “Ahh.”
"We are not doing a chronological survey on the history of scupture from the stone age to the present. We are looking at the clustering of sculptural forms as they relate to how we have collected over the past 40 years, but also how these clusters of objects really do address some of these pesky and central ideas of what makes a sculptural object a sculpture."
--Richard Born, Senior Curator
Briefly, who are you, how long have you been here, and what is your (current and past) position(s) at the Smart?
My name is John Harness, and currently I am the Interim Associate Tours Manager – I work in the Education Department. I started working at the Smart in fall of 2007 as a docent and since then have also been several different kinds of Education Intern before taking over this role. In fact, though the youngest, I am the member of the Education Department who has worked at the Smart the longest!
“David and Alfred Smart were workers in the labor force of the arts...As such, they would be pleased and honored today to know that their efforts to broaden the appreciation of art will be carried on, in their name, and on the highest level.”
–John Smart, Smart Family Foundation, groundbreaking, October 29, 1974
In the beginning, the University’s art collection was void and formless. Artifacts and paintings were scattered around department offices and lounges, often packed away in storage. Many of these items had long since lost the teaching context for which they were originally intended. In the late 1960s, these art objects became the foundation of the then nascent Smart Museum’s collection. At the time of the Smart’s founding, Katharine Lee Keefe, the museum’s first curator, along with a slew of art history graduate students conducted a campus-wide survey of all the original works of art which formed the inheritance of the new museum.
The idea for an art museum on the campus of the University of Chicago was a glimmer in the eye of our first president, William Rainey Harper, who, at the founding of the University, announced the need for an arts building of some sort though no action was taken at the time. In 1929, the University secured a pledge from industrialist Max Epstein to fund a building dedicated to the fine arts. However, that same year the stock market crashed, and the project was abandoned. Nearly a century after Harper’s announcement, the building became a reality when, in October of 1974, the David and Alfred Smart Gallery and Cochrane-Woods Art Center opened.
Next month, the Smart celebrates its 40th anniversary. So today, we’re rolling out this blog to mark the start of a year-long series of celebrations.