Smart to the Core: Embodying the Self

January 29–May 19, 2019

This exhibition brings together modern and contemporary artists who explore the visual construction of selfhood across a range of gender, sexual, racial, ethnic, and intersectional identities. 

Speaking in the first person, each artist produces a self in the works, some through self-portraiture, some through abstraction, and others by reflecting critically on cultural representations of identity categories that impact them personally. The exhibition accentuates a level of self-consciousness about the relationship between identity and embodiment, encouraging viewers to consider their sense of themselves and the forces that shape it.
Smart to the Core: Embodying the Self is the first in a series of exhibitions designed by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry to expand object-centered teaching across all fields and disciplines in the University of Chicago’s celebrated College Core, which introduces students to foundational texts that raise fundamental questions about human experience. This first iteration is organized as primary source material for the Social Sciences course sequence, “Self, Culture, and Society.” Throughout the 2019 winter and spring academic quarters students will interpret the artworks in tandem with the theories and texts associated with their course. Overall, this new exhibition program showcases the ways in which the Smart Museum engages with and shares the intellectual life of the University with the broader public.


Arthur Amiotte, Marcel Duchamp, Melvin Edwards, Robert Gober, Ayana V. Jackson, Geng Jianyi, Win McCarthy, Ana Mendieta, Kent Monkman, Yasumasa Morimura, Zanele Muholi, Lorraine O'Grady, Catherine Opie, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Ma Qiusha, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, Anna Shteynshleyger, Frances Stark, Tony Tasset, Hank Willis Thomas, Gillian Wearing, Carrie Mae Weems, and H.C. Westermann. 

The (Un)Common Core

Published in conjunction with the exhibition, The (Un)Common Core is a digital booklet that offers a brief history of the Core at the University of Chicago and reproduces archival images and other documents. The booklet was written by Nora Lambert, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Intern. 

Top: Installation view of Smart to the Core: Embodying the Self.

Above: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study for Joe ( _2010980), 2017, archival Pigment Print. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, The Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions, 2018.59. Courtesy of DOCUMENT.