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

Presented in multiple venues and neighborhoods throughout Chicago

A painting of multiple characters marching alongside a car in subdued but vibrant colors

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.

At the Smart Museum

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 foregrounds issues of the natural and built environments: environmental racism, urban geographies, and the depiction of those spaces. The selected works—by Mark Bradford, Mel Chin, Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jeffrey Gibson, Toba Khedoori, Rick Lowe, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Julie Mehretu, Fazal Sheikh, and Xu Bing—consider how race and class shape our rural and urban spaces while also engaging art historical questions about the history of landscape photography and painting. Together, these works call into question the local and global power structures and social inequities that plague contemporary society, a reality thrown into stark relief by the global pandemic.

Virtual tour

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

Toward Common Cause logo

Top: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Water Table, 41°47'36.993" N - 87°36'0.726" W, from the series Well, 2021, Reclaimed Ash table and benches, stainless steel reservoir and hand pump, water. Courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

Above: Nicole Eisenman, The Triumph of Poverty, 2009, Oil on canvas. Collection of Bobbi and Stephen Rosenthal, New York City. Image courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles.