The 50th: An Anniversary Exhibition

September 24, 2024–March 2, 2025

Abstract painting by Joan Mitchell

The 50th: An Anniversary Exhibition explores what makes and defines a university art museum. A pioneer in arts-based learning, the Smart and its mission have evolved since the Museum opened its doors in the fall of 1974. Absorbing, reflecting, engaging with, and at times resisting the latest ideas, the Smart has continued to change. Throughout however, it has remained a space for exploration and experimentation and a site for bringing people together from the University of Chicago, South Side communities, and beyond. 

This exhibition traces the layered, sometimes hidden, histories that have made up the Smart Museum of Art. These histories range from fraught beginnings of building a teaching collection and important relationships with local artists, critics, and community leaders, to opportunities presented by unexpected gifts and partnerships. It reconsiders the impact of the Museum’s past exhibitions that have told different narratives, programs that have pushed boundaries, and acquisitions that have altered the course of the collection. It explores the Smart’s dedication to broadening academic engagement on and off campus. Drawn from the collection, the exhibition presents over a hundred works from across the breadth and depth of the Museum’s holdings, including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and archival materials.

For the past five decades, artworks in the Smart’s collection have been activated in myriad ways to generate curiosity, pursue knowledge, and foster creative modes of interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration with diverse audiences in mind. In reflecting on this institution’s past, The 50th hopes to chart new possibilities for the role university art museums play in our communities. 

Image: Joan Mitchell, Untitled, ca. 1961, Oil on canvas. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Katharine Kuh, 1968.3 © Estate of Joan Mitchell.