Smart to the Core: Poetry is Everything

September 21, 2023–February 4, 2024

What is poetry and why do we do it?

This exhibition examines the practice of poetry as a form of communication, linguistic innovation, political performance, and embodied presence—considering how poetry can be a lens for understanding humanity. Ranging from an ancient fragment of papyrus to contemporary video works, this diverse collection of objects speaks to themes of memory, kinship, revolution, and play, as well as translation and adaptation over time. And, as a visual arts exhibition, foregrounds poetry’s adjacencies to other forms of making.

Organized by the Museum’s Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, Poetry is Everything is the third iteration of “Smart to the Core,” a collaborative series of exhibitions that are simultaneously designed for teaching in the University’s celebrated Core undergraduate curriculum and curated to make that curriculum accessible to broader publics. This exhibition was particularly inspired by, and curated for, the Humanities Division course “Poetry and the Human.” Throughout the exhibition, around 200 first-year students will interpret the artworks on view in tandem with the global set of readings associated with their course—transforming the Museum into their classroom.


Featured artists include John Cage, Elizabeth Catlett, Bethany Collins, Jeff Donaldson, Maurice Dumont, Eiho, John Giorno, Jenny Holzer, Sky Hopinka, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Jackson Mac Low, Emile René Ménard, Carlos Mérida, Helen Mirra, Ōtagaki Rengetsu, Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara, Mary Ellen Solt, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, Parviz Tanavoli, Cecilia Vicuña, and Yi Mae Kye (Ri Baikei) and Maruyama Ōkyo.

With additional books, letters, manuscripts, and ephemera on display by Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Ted Joans, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Sun Ra, and William Carlos Williams.

Top: Installation view, Poetry is Everything, Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago. Photo by Bob. Above: Jackson Mac Low, Drawing Asymmetry #42, 1961, Ink on paper. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, The Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions, 2017.131.