Calling on the Past: Selections from the Collection

March 21, 2023–February 4, 2024

Calling on the Past invites visitors to experience the Smart Museum’s collection anew, through a sensory exploration of color, texture, and form.

In lieu of customary chronological or geographical divisions, such as those that have often guided the display of the collection in the past, this installation draws on the breadth and depth of the Museum’s holdings to situate key works side by side across centuries. From antiquities to contemporary painting and sculpture, the cross-historical selection of objects speaks to the varied materials, ideas, and questions artists continue to explore, while emphasizing the editing of history.

Calling on the Past is inspired in part by art historian George Kubler’s seminal text The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962), which argues the art of the past is in constant conversation with the present. Kubler replaces the notion of art historical styles with the understanding that time is both linear and looped, and artists have been revisiting the same sets of questions across the ages. Rather than emphasizing objects’ original context, this exhibition inserts them into imaginative groupings, unraveling historical hierarchies and encouraging us to see the collection with fresh eyes.


Image: Amir H. Fallah, Calling on the Past, 2018, Acrylic on canvas. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of the 2018 Northern Trust Purchase Prize, 2018.46.

“Knowing the past is as astonishing a performance as knowing the stars. Astronomers look only at old light. There is no other light for them to look at. This old light of dead or distant stars was emitted long ago and it reaches us only in the present.”
—George Kubler