Urban Art and Urban Form

Maya Hayuk, “Paint Pour 2011”

Artists participate in Hayuk’s work on Monster Island, Brooklyn, NY. September 11, 2011

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For more information about UChicago Urban, contact:

Anne Dodge
Executive Director, UChicago Urban

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Urban Art and Urban Form: the University of Chicago 2017-2018 Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar

Faculty Directors:

Bill Brown, English, Visual Arts and Deputy Provost for the Arts; Theaster Gates,Visual Arts and Director, Art + Public Life; Christine Mehring, Professor and Chair, Art History; W. J. T. Mitchell, English, Art History, Visual Arts; Jessica Stockholder, Professor and Chair, Visual Arts

In the 2017-2018 academic year, the University of Chicago, in parntership with UChicago Arts and UChicago Urban, will host a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar on Urban Art and Urban Form, which seeks to establish a conversation—across the arts and disciplines—about how art contributes to the formation and transformation of urban space. What role has art played and what role can it play in shaping the urban environment? How do built spaces and public artworks interact with one another or converge? How do we conceive the aesthetic dimension of urban design (from architecture and landscape design, to pedestrian networks, place-making, and city planning)?

By urban art we refer to a range of site-specific works conceived for an urban context, from ephemeral performances and exhibitions, to temporary installations and interventions, to durable sculptures and murals. By urban form we mean to designate built space as it shapes (and is shaped by) the local environment (e.g., topography, climate, politics), the cityscape (e.g., blocks, sightlines, plazas), and broader city systems (e.g., transportation, illumination).

The Seminar will offer two graduate fellowships for University of Chicago students, as well as one Mellon Sawyer Postgraduate or Postdoctoral Fellowship. Click here to learn more about the postgraduate fellowship; applications are due by February 17, 2017.  For existing UChicago students, see this page for more information on the seminar’s graduate fellowships; applications are due March 27, 2017.

Seminar Programs

The Urban Art, Urban Form Seminar will consist of a year’s worth of public and private programming at the University of Chicago, culminating in an international conference in May, 2018.  The seminar will also include the appointment of a post-graduate fellow, and two graduate fellows who are currently graduate students at the University of Chicago.  Fellows will work together with the Seminar Steering Committee on the development of all programs, curricular activity, and the concluding conference in May 2018.


Autumn Quarter: Urban Art and the Building

We will focus on urban art in relation to specific buildings, and begin by using the case of the Obama Center’s Library to engage questions about how public buildings have tried to use art to become cultural centers. In conversation with a wide range of expertise (artists, architects, planners, and scholars), we will then focus on comparative sites, within and beyond the US, and across a broad chronological range (with particular attention to art museums in Shanghai, federal buildings in Washington D.C., and the Parthenon in Athens). We expect to highlight a variety of dynamics:

  • between art and architecture
  • between the local public and broader publics
  • between daily routine and event

We expect the audience for this seminar to extend far beyond our local constituency; it will include representatives from the Obama Foundation and participants in the Architecture Biennial.

Winter Quarter: Urban Art, the Block, and the Neighborhood

In the winter, we will use current plans for the Garfield Arts Block (west of Washington Park, in close proximity to the University) to address the ways in which the arts can be deployed to reanimate degraded city blocks.  Moving beyond the block, we will employ the Woodlawn and Grand Crossing neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side (immediately south of the University) to frame and address the question of how artistic interventions and local art organizations seek to have an impact on understanding neighborhood histories and on transforming neighborhoods. As the quarter progresses, we will complicate the concept of the neighborhood, considering intermediate units of urban scale as we think critically about plazas, urban parks, and park systems, for instance.  We anticipate focusing on a range of comparative projects: the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg, the Favela Painting Project in Rio, the 1972 Olympics complex in Munich, and No Longer Empty in New York, for instance.  Despite this range we expect to maintain a focus on particular topics:

  • transformation that is irreducible to gentrification
  • history, local tradition, and cultural education
  • cultural sustainability / economic sustainability

Spring Quarter: Urban Art and the Network

In the Spring quarter, we will consider the role of art in the network society.   Our winter quarter discussion of reanimation will serve as the foundation for investigating a broader network of change and the ways that it depends on infrastructural networks (transportation, illumination, sanitation, communication, etc.), those forms that sustain the urban form of everyday experience.  So too, we will consider how the digital network (and the global aesthetic economy it supports) has changed the potential impact of urban art.

The range of the spring quarter seminar is deliberately scaled beyond the geographical notion of place; nonetheless, we plan to address the following topics:

  • city barriers and borders
  • infrastructural systems
  • the different impact of distinct media

For more information on the 2017 Urban Art, Urban Form Sawyer Seminar, please contact Anne Dodge at acdodge@uchicago.edu or 773-702-5116.

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