About this Project

Since Pablo Picasso’s inclusion of oil cloth, and rope in his Still-Life with Chair Caning (1912), and Marcel Duchamp’s attachment of a bicycle wheel on a stool for his first assisted ready-made (1913), the diversity of materials used in art making has exploded. Nothing, perhaps, distinguishes 20th-century art more from prior art than its materials. Yet their significance – if, when, and how these materials matter and what they mean – has not been seriously addressed in art history. Such an effort entails, for example, considering a material’s exact scientific make up, its nature as shapeable matter or found commodity, its historical and cultural meanings or transcendence thereof, its tactile as opposed to merely visual appeal or use, its manner of being worked, its existence in time and possible demise, its function in shaping and withdrawing monetary or cultural value, and its very role in shaping the identity and definition of art. This surprising lacuna results most obviously from the peculiar conjunction of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary expertise required to address these issues. This two-year project will initiate a series of engagements with a growing number of local scholars interested in the materials of modern and contemporary art. 

Our lead project focuses on a material investigation and conservation proposal for Wolf Vostell’s Concrete Traffic (1970), a monumental sculpture of great art historical significance that is part of the University of Chicago’s Campus Art Collection. This project will bring New York-based conservator Christian Scheidemann to the UChicago campus. A leading conservator of contemporary art, Scheidemann is the only one in the world who has built his expertise on art made from non-traditional materials. A scholar who, in his publications, draws on his art historical training, intellectual breadth, and conservation experiences, he is also a practitioner in the sense that he restores art, halts or slows its aging process, or advises not to intervene, but also in the sense that he consults and collaborates with artists who work with unusual materials.

A second project centers on the fate of two untitled sculptures by the multi-media artist Buky Schwartz, also a part of the University’s Campus Art Collection.  A collaboration between Elka Krajewska, a New York-based artist and President of the Salvage Art Institute, and Christine Mehring, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History, SAI, Untitled will consist of a series of exhibitions and events that question the inherent value of works of art.

In Spring 2015, the Material Matters project will bring the Salvage Art Institute’s exhibition No Longer Art to the University of Chicago, marking the inaugural exhibition of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.  


Vostell, Fluxus and the Art of Protest

February 8, 2017

Chicago Tribune art critic Lori Waxman considers how the Neubauer Collegium Exhibition "Fantastic Architecture" offers "a timely study in the ways that certain avant-garde artists in the late 1960s and early '70s made art that looked like art while taking protest to heart."

Concrete Car Sparks Dialogue on Public Art

January 26, 2017

Three new exhibitions at the University of Chicago examine the meaning of Wolf Vostell’s iconic sculpture Concrete Traffic, conserved and restored by Faculty Fellow Christine Mehring (Art History) as part of the Material Matters research project at the Neubauer Collegium. "Having Concrete Traffic back, and staging these three exhibitions simultaneously, makes for an extraordinary moment for visual art on campus, an example of what can happen when scholarly research, pedagogical training, and public engagement come together," Mehring tells UChicago News.

Winter Preview: 10 Art Shows Not to Miss

December 28, 2016

The Neubauer Collegium exhibition Vostell, Fluxus, and the Built Environment is cited, along with the Smart Museum's "Vostell Concrete: 1969–1973," among the Chicago Tribune's must-see art shows of the season.


There are no events associated with this project yet.