Zachary Cahill: USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllic—affair of the heart

August 23, 2013 – August 3, 2014

Installation view of USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllyc—affair of the heart.

In his site-specific banner commissioned for the Smart Museum’s courtyard, Zachary Cahill questions whether art has the power to make us well.

Drawing from multiple historical sources, Cahill (University of Chicago MFA 2007) considers the parallel traditions of the artistic retreat and the health spa or sanatorium—places often situated within idyllic natural environments, where residents or weary guests seek a bit of respite. For this year-long installation he will present a vinyl banner painting, featuring gestural responses to the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's The Monk by the Sea (1808–10) and early-twentieth-century expressionistic portraiture. Cahill reflects upon these references as descriptions of an existential relationship between the individual and the landscape. His work invites us to consider the distance—often difficult to express—between internal and external experience.

Idyllic—affair of the heart inaugurates the third and concluding chapter of Cahill’s long-termUSSA 2012 project, building on his previous works The Orphanage Project (2011) and The People’s Palace’s Gift Shop (2012). Each of these iterations invokes USSA 2012: an institution invented to support the artist’s interventions into cultural spaces. USSA 2012: Wellness Center is conceived as a work with multiple parts; this banner marks the first, and will be accompanied by performative and discursive events as well as a set of postcards available in the Smart Shop, watercolor sketches hanging in the Museum's offices, emoji, and other Wellness Center resources.


The Threshold series brings a major installation of contemporary art to the Smart Museum’s reception hall and sculpture garden each year, ensuring that all visitors—whether they have come to the building for a class, an exhibition, or a cup of coffee—will instantly encounter new art.

Related programs

Sounds for Wellness: A Monthly Smart Phone Performance
Last Friday of every month
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, November's performance will take place on Tuesday, November 26

Seance v. 9: Notes from the Blood Bank
at Expo Chicago

September 22, 2013

November 8, 2013


For more about Cahill's USSA 2012: Wellness Center project, please browse the resources below.

"Idyllic—affair of the heart, my dear lady," Behrens said, and held Louisa Ziemssen’s hand in his own two, the size of two shovels, looking down at her with his goggling, watery, blood-shot eyes. "I’m tremendously glad it is taking such a gratifying course, and he doesn’t need to go through with the Œdema of the glottis or any indignity of that sort, he will be spared a lot of messing about. The heart is giving out rapidly, lucky for him and for us; we can do our duty with camphor injections and the like, without much chance of drawing things out. He will sleep a good deal at the end, and his dreams will be pleasant, I think I can promise you that, even if he shouldn’t go off to sleep, still it will be a short crossing, he’ll scarcely notice, you may rely upon it. It’s so in the majority of the cases, at bottom— I know what death is, I am an old retainer of his; and believe me, he’s overrated. Almost nothing to him: Of course, all kinds of beastliness can happen beforehand— but it isn’t fair to count those in, they are as living life itself, and can just as well lead up to a cure. But about Death— No one who came back from it could tell you anything, because we don’t realize it. We come out of the dark and go into the dark again, and in between lie the experience of our life. But the beginning and the end, birth and death, we do not experience; they have no subjective character, they fall entirely in the category of objective events, and that’s that."

— Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain