About this Project

2014 – 2016

Art and Public Life is a combination seminar-colloquium, beginning in the fall term of 2014 and continuing throughout the 2014-15 academic year. The aim of the seminar is to work through some of the most advanced thinking on ideas about publics and their relation to questions of community, politics, society, culture, and the arts. From John Dewey through Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas, the notion of the public has remained central to a wide variety of debates in the humanities and social sciences. What is a public? How are publics constituted? What is the role of real and virtual space, architectural design and technical media, in the formation of publics? And, most centrally for our purposes, what role can and do the arts play in the emergence of various kinds of publics? One of our aims is to gauge the transformations in the arts and notions of the public sphere since the great outpouring of reflections on this topic that marked the “Culture Wars” of the 1980s, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Soviet communism in 1989, and the emergence of new technical media along with new virtual and actual publics since the 1990s. Central to this investigation is the emergence of new concepts of art as “social practice” and new modes of thinking about the public sphere not merely as a kind of space, but as the site of practices and actions. Over the course of the year, Art and Public Life will also bring visiting artists, critics, and scholars to the University of Chicago campus to give a series of public lectures on the topic that will be considered for publication in a special issue of Critical Inquiry on Art & Public Life.


Using Discards to Build Art (and Rebuild a City)

March 14, 2017

In this New York Times video and accompanying article, Faculty Fellow Theaster Gates (Art & Public Life) discusses his new exhibition, "The Minor Arts," which opened at the National Gallery of Art last week and runs through Sept. 4.

W.J.T. Mitchell on “American Psychosis”

February 16, 2017

In an essay adapted from a lecture delivered at the Université de Genève, Faculty Fellow W.J.T. Mitchell (Art & Public Life) explores "the consequences of collective irrationality, folly, and delusion."


August 11, 2015

The Stony Island Arts Bank is a new kind of cultural amenity, a new kind of institution—a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community center.

-- Artnews

Project Updates

Past updates

Ariella Azoulay: Kill Me If You Wish To: Imperial Violence and the Common

Friday, November 13
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Cochrane-Woods Art Center, Room 157
5540 South Greenwood Avenue

Professor, curator, and documentary filmmaker Ariella Azoulay will present a paper that discusses three moments when someone steps forward and cries "kill me if you wish to” - Pende rebellion 1931, Stephane Charbonier (Charlie Hebdo) and Zakary Zubeide (in 2001).

Gregory Sholette: Precarious Workers of the (Art) World Unite!
Friday, October 9
Cochrane-Woods Art Center 157
5540 South Greenwood Ave, Chicago, IL

Artist, writer and activist Gregory Sholette discusses the varied tactics associated with Gulf Labor Coalition as they seek to call attention to the plight of precarious migrant workers in Abu Dhabi where a new Guggenheim Museum is in the works, followed by an examination of Marina Naprushkina's sustainable art project in the Moabit section of Berlin where she is developing an "artificial institution" whose mission is to service the needs of her "new neighbors": political refugees fleeing military and economic conflict in Syria, Iraq and Northern Africa. Read More >>


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