Down Time: On the Art of Retreat

October 25–December 15, 2019

Where can we turn when we need space and time away? What do those spaces look like, and how do we create them? Who has access? And can we ever really get away, even for a little while? 

The artworks in Down Time present a range of public, private, and imagined settings—from lush gardens in France, to shadowy hallways, to kaleidoscopic landscapes—that point to realms of retreat. With particular attention to how artists have represented black subjects in places of respite, and how black artists have aspired to, imagined, performed, and created spaces for sustaining themselves at a remove from everyday life and extreme events, this exhibition asks: what drives the creation of these “other” spaces, how have artists envisioned them, and how does “getting away” shape an ultimate return?

A collaboratively produced exhibition organized through the Smart Museum of Art’s Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, Down Time was conceptualized and curated by the University of Chicago graduate and undergraduate students of the Department of Art History’s course Exhibition in Practice taught by Leslie Wilson, with further support from two Summer Undergraduate Research Associates. The curatorial cohort worked closely with the Smart Museum’s team to shape all parts of this exhibition including selecting artworks from the Smart’s permanent collection and from private collectors, overall interpretation, design and layout, programming, and publications.  


Romare Bearden, Dino Campbell, Nick Cave, Roy DeCarava, Minnie Evans, Ja’Tovia Gary, Naima Green, Loïs Mailou Jones, Hughie Lee-Smith, Simone Leigh, Patric McCoy, Wayne F. Miller, Mario Moore, Faith Ringgold, Art Shay, Fazal Sheikh, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Ming Smith, Rosalind Solomon, John Szarkowski, James Van Der Zee, Carrie Mae Weems, Gerald Williams, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, and Derrick Woods-Morrow.


Published in conjunction with the exhibition, this booklet features three essays written by University of Chicago students that delve into the exhibition’s central themes of retreat, leisure, access, and identity.

Top: Ja'Tovia Gary, Still from Giverny I (Négresse Impériale), 2017, Video, 06:18. Courtesy the artist and galerie frank elbaz. 

Above: Nick Cave, Arm Peace, 2018, Cast bronze and vintage tole flowers. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.