These 28 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Artists Were Tapped for a Citywide Show in Chicago to Celebrate the Brainiac Award’s 40th Anniversary

The show is being organized by Abigail Winograd.

Jeffrey Gibson working in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Jeffrey Gibson working in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Twenty-eight artists who have MacArthur “Genius” grants will come together for a single exhibition, spread across nearly 20 venues in Chicago.

Opening in summer 2021, “Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40” will include grantees such as Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, David Hammons, and Kerry James Marshall.

Organized by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the exhibition will take place across multiple venues, including the DuSable Museum of African American History, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as community organizations such as BBF Family Services and municipal organizations including the Chicago Housing Authority.

“Particularly these days and in these troubled times, it is an absolute privilege to work with these artists,” the exhibition’s curator, Abigail Winograd, said in a phone interview. “It keeps one from falling into despair when I can spend so much, at least, virtual time with people who remind me every day that things can get better, since they have track records of being able to use their work to make the world better. It’s a dream to be in this position.”

Rick Lowe, Black Wall Street Journey, 2020, Photo illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

Rick Lowe, Black Wall Street Journey (2020). Photo illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

The show revolves around the concept of “the commons,” defined by MacArthur-winning author Lewis Hyde as “a social regime for managing a common resource.” Common resources like air, water, and art and culture, Winograd says, are not equally available, and access to them has, if anything, been increasingly curtailed.

The exhibition will include community-based projects, some of which are already underway, as well as solo and group shows at the various venues.

A piece by Mel Chin, installed at the Sweet Water Foundation, brings to Chicago a community artwork he did in New Orleans related to lead remediation. Meanwhile, pieces by the Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby will be installed in buildings run by the Chicago Housing Authority, and photographer Wendy Ewald will collaborate with teenagers through Centro Romero, which supports immigrants, on a photographic project.

“We started three years ago out of a sense of social urgency, which has grown more and more pressing,” Winograd said. “We were talking about a set of issues that remain relevant and in some ways have become even more painfully relevant.”

See a full list of the participating artists below.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Ida Applebroog
Dawoud Bey
Mark Bradford
Mel Chin
Nicole Eisenman
Wendy Ewald
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Jeffrey Gibson
Guillermo Gómez-Peña
Gary Hill
David Hammons
Alfredo Jaar
Toba Khedoori
An-My Lê
Whitfield Lovell
Rick Lowe
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Kerry James Marshall
Julie Mehretu
Amalia Mesa-Bains
Trevor Paglen
Fazal Sheikh
Shahzia Sikande
Kara Walker
Carrie Mae Weems
Fred Wilson
Xu Bing


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