Exhibition by W.J.T. Mitchell
September 27 – December 8, 2021

MADD Center, 1st floor of the John Crerar Library, 5730 S. Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637

Metapictures at The University of Chicago is a new public art exhibition that shows the way visual images reflect on themselves, and on the very process of seeing itself.

Comprised of over 100 posters, videos, and an interactive display, the exhibition is divided into eleven topical “clouds” of images and texts that have been critical to the understanding of pictorial representation in philosophy, art history, and media theory. Reflecting on the role of images from Plato to Deleuze, on media from Aristotle to McLuhan, on exhibition practices from Cabinets of Curiosity to Aby Warburg to Andre Malraux, Metapictures might be seen as a game that leads the spectator into a labyrinth of concepts from numerous fields of knowledge that have attempted to understand the role of images in human affairs.

Included are Walter Benjamin’s “Dialectical Images” (capturing “history at a standstill”); cognitive psychology’s “Multistable images” that expose the doubleness and duplicity of pictures; “Biopictures” that exemplify the uncanny “lifelikeness” and “viral” character of images; “Talking Pictures” that reveal the relation of images to language; screens and templates that capture the intersubjective encounter between the seer and the seen, what Lacan calls “The Eye and the Gaze”; and “Image Atlases” that aim to provide totalizing overviews in art history, forensic science, natural history, and world pictures.

The exhibition is anchored by W. J. T. Mitchell’s fall seminar, “Metapictures,” cross-listed between English, Cinema Studies, Art History, and the Department of Visual Arts. Space has been set aside in the exhibition for students and visitors to mount and arrange images in new patterns, and to propose additional images, texts, and categories.

Closing reception: Wed, Dec 1, 4:30pm
RSVP recommended but not required,

Curated by W.J.T. Mitchell, the exhibition is sponsored by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry at the Smart Museum of Art and UChicago Public Art. With thanks to David Wolf, Senior Director of Arts Technologies at UChicago’s Logan Center for the Arts.

How to Visit

Use the arrow to expand or collapse this section

W. J. T. Mitchell received his MA and PhD from Johns Hopkins University. He taught in the English Department of Ohio State University from 1968–77 and has been teaching in the Department of English and Art History at the University of Chicago since 1977, now named as a Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor. He has served as a Professor at the School of Criticism and Theory three times (Northwestern University, 1983; Dartmouth, 1990, Cornell University, 2016). In 2017, he was selected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As scholar and theorist, Mitchell works particularly on the history and theories of media, visual art, and literature, from the eighteenth century to the present. His work explores the relations of visual and verbal representations in the culture and iconology (the study of images across the media). In his article The Pictorial Turn published in Artforum in 1992, Mitchell affirmed the significance of the “linguistic turn” that proposed by Richard Rorty, and prospectively suggested that a similar “pictorial turn” is needed. Mitchell may be considered as one of the earliest scholars in the Western academic circles who promoted the study of humanities from an image-oriented perspective. In later published Picture Theory (1994), he then expanded this concept in depth, and it was also in this book that Mitchell proposed his acclaimed “Metapicture” theory. Along with his Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1986) and What Do Pictures Want?The Lives and Loves of Images (2005), these three books collectively construct a theoretical framework of Mitchell's image theory and visual culture study. Mitchell's other publications covering various disciplines and topics such as literature, media aesthetics, popular culture, and visual images in socio-politics. Learn more

Related Events

MetaMedia Symposium
Fri, October 29, 2021 / 1-4PM CDT

This virtual event is free, and will take place in a Zoom Webinar format. Please register to receive the Zoom details.

“MetaMedia” is an online symposium at the University of Chicago that revisits the question of self-reference and self-criticism in both old and new media. Across three presentations, we ask: What does it mean to think of “medium specificity” in our twenty-first century transmedia ecology? How do media evolve? What is their relation to technology, social conditions, and political movements? And then, more precisely, what can we learn from media about media? What happens with the “nesting” and “braiding” of media in transitional and hybrid forms that cross-fertilize the channels of visual, auditory, and textual forms? This symposium seeks to identify ways that media hold up mirrors (or stethoscopes, or DNA samples) to themselves.

Three presentations will offer examples from comics and graphic narrative (Hillary Chute, Northeastern University), video games and digital media (Patrick Jagoda, University of Chicago), and verbal-visual images (W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago) with the discussion ranging across an even broader range of arts and media. Discussants include Bill Brown and Ashlyn Sparrow from the University of Chicago.

Laura Steward
Curator of Public Art, The University of Chicago