Monochrome Multitudes

September 22, 2022–January 8, 2023

This exhibition traces “the monochrome” as a fundamental if surprisingly expansive artistic practice. Revisiting classic modernist ideas about flatness, idealized form, and colors, Monochrome Multitudes opens up this seemingly reductive art to reveal its global resonance and creative possibilities while working toward a more expansive narrative of 20th and 21st century art.

Within the exhibition, art is presented in monochromatic groupings—rooms of blue, white, yellow, gray, black, and red works respectively—alternating with thematic sections where single colors engage concerns with the body, urban space, sound, and other topics. Switching between these two types of spaces, the exhibition suggests that works that look alike are often quite different, and that works that look different can share historical, thematic, or conceptual propositions. Throughout, Monochrome Multitudes engages North American art in a global dialogue and emphasizes the significance of multiple media ranging from weaving to wall-painting to video, and multiple materials including footballs, pantyhose, and Vinylite.


Monochrome Multitudes features works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mary Abbott, Josef Albers, Alphonse Allais, Lynda Benglis, Ernő Berda, Mark Bradford, Alexander Calder, Enrico Castellani, Alan Cohen, Bethany Collins, Barbara Crane, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jaime Davidovich, Walter De Maria, José de Rivera, Roy DeCarava, Beauford Delaney, Laddie John Dill, Charles and Ray Eames, Lucio Fontana, Helen Frankenthaler, Theaster Gates, Frank Gehry, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Wade Guyton, Irena Haiduk, David Hartt, Arturo Herrera, Carmen Herrera, Sheila Hicks, Jörg Immendorff, Lotte Jacobi, Derek Jarman, Rashid Johnson, Jennie C. Jones, Samuel Levi Jones, Ellsworth Kelly, Byron Kim, Lyman Kipp, Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama, Tadaaki Kuwayama, Kwon Young-woo, Lee Ufan, Marilyn Lenkowsky, Ma Qiusha, Sally Mann, Allan McCollum, Manfred Mohr, Linda Montano, Mun Pyung, Louise Nevelson, Barnett Newman, Jules Olitski, Palermo, Palermo & Gerhard Richter, Dan Peterman, Francis Picabia, John Plumb, Avery Preesman, Tobias Rehberger, Ad Reinhardt, Dorothea Rockburne, Ugo Rondinone, Robert Ryman, Fred Sandback, Joe Scanlan, David Schutter, Richard Serra, F.N. Souza, Ted Stamm, Jessica Stockholder, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hiroyuki Tajima, Tony Tasset, Anne Truitt, Naama Tsabar, William Turnbull, James Turrell, Raoul Ubac, Günther Uecker, Günter Umberg, Wolf Vostell, H. C. Westermann, Amanda Williams, Karl Wirsum, Haegue Yang, Yang Jiechang, and Claire Zeisler.

Expanding Narratives

Monochrome Multitudes is part of the Smart Museum’s ongoing “Expanding Narratives” series that mobilizes collection installations to reevaluate canonic histories and curatorial strategies. The majority of the approximately 120 works on display are drawn from the Smart Museum’s collection. They are supplemented by a number of loans from UChicago alumni, Chicago-area collections, and beyond.

A multitude of voices

To make this notoriously challenging art form more accessible and inclusive, Monochrome Multitudes features audio commentary by a diverse range of voices—including UChicago students, faculty, conservators, Museum staff, and other members of the Museum’s expanded community—to promote close looking or activate select artworks with a sound experience. Guests can access the audio using QR codes found throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition also engages the University of Chicago’s intellectual community through object labels authored by faculty, students, and alumni with expertise ranging from astrophysics, neuroscience, and mathematics to law, literature, and theater. 

Monochrome everywhere

Additional examples of monochrome art are on display across the University of Chicago’s campus. In conjunction with Monochrome Multitudes, visitors are invited to explore a wider world of monochrome through works of public art and unexpected groupings in the Harper Center headquarters of the Booth School of Business, the Harris School of Public Policy’s Keller Center, Reva and David Logan Center for the ArtsMedia Arts, Data and Design Center at the John Crerar Library, David Rubenstein Forum, and other locations. Featured artists include Sarah Canright, Chryssa, Eduardo Consuegra, Willie Doherty, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, John Henry, Jene Highstein, Matthew Metzger, Olivier Mosset, Charlotte Posenenske, Cameron Rowland, Valerie Snobeck, Danh Vo, Michael Wilkinson, and Yui Yaegeshi.

At the University of Chicago

The exhibition serves as the sole classroom for the Art History seminar “Monochrome Multitudes,” co-taught by the curators in Autumn quarter. As part of the class, UChicago students have the opportunity to contribute their research and writing to the exhibition’s web-based audio app, a research symposium, and more.

Additional resources

Top: Installation view of the “Yellow” section of Monochrome Multitudes, showing works by Beauford Delaney, Charles and Ray Eames, Lyman Kipp, Sheila Hicks, William Turnbull, and Anne Truitt.

Claire Zeisler, Triptych, 1967, Knotted and tied dyed wool. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Starrels, Sr., 1973.213a-c.