Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40

Presented in multiple venues and neighborhoods throughout Chicago

Presented in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows Program, this multi-site exhibition uses the idea of “the commons” to explore the current socio-political moment, in which questions of inclusion, exclusion, ownership, and rights of access are constantly being challenged across a wide array of human endeavors.

Although the idea of the commons is historically associated with Western Europe, the notion of common property, communal-use rights, and communally managed natural resources has broad geo-political resonance. Toward Common Cause encompasses a wide spectrum of contemporary artistic practice that engages with the natural world, the built environment, human society, and identity. It explores the extent to which resources—air, land, water, and even culture—can be held in common without being freely available, and the idea that all commons involve obligations and are, to some extent, exclusionary.

Toward Common Cause utilizes the MacArthur Fellows Program as an intellectual commons and features new and recontextualized work by 29 visual artists who have been named Fellows since the award program’s founding in 1981.


Plan your visit

Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40
July 15–December 19, 2021

Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago

As the main gallery venue for Toward Common Cause, the Smart Museum presents a group show that surveys the impacts of environmental racism and segregation on rural and urban geographies. The selected works—by Mark Bradford, Mel Chin, Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jeffrey Gibson, Toba Khedoori, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Julie Mehretu, Fazal Sheikh, and Xu Bing—address questions of the natural and built environment. Together, they question the purported neutrality of landscape in the history of art as well as call for a reckoning with the ways in which race and class impact the layout of our cities.


Across Chicago

Summer through fall 2021
Various locations

Toward Common Cause is organized by the University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art in collaboration with exhibition, programmatic, and research partners across Chicago. The exhibition encompasses a broad spectrum of contemporary artistic practice, including community-based projects realized in public spaces as well as solo and group presentations in multiple museum, gallery, and community spaces.

Browse the full list of participating artists, projects, related events, and partner venues at the exhibition website towardcommoncause.org

Toward Common Cause logo


Top: Toba Khedoori, Untitled, 2020, Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner and Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Toba Khedoori.

Above: Nicole Eisenman, The Triumph of Poverty, 2009, Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles.