Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40 explores the extent to which certain resources—air, land, water, and even culture—can be held in common. Raising questions about inclusion, exclusion, ownership, and rights of access, the exhibition considers art’s vital role in society alongside its calls for vigilance in defending shared resources. Presented on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows Program, Toward Common Cause deploys the Fellows Program as an “intellectual commons” and features new and recontextualized work by twenty-nine visual artists who have been named Fellows since the award program’s founding in 1981.
Chicago-based Dawoud Bey (MacArthur Fellow, 2017) has photographed South Side youth across decades of artistic practice. In the 1990s, he invited them into his studio, seated them against single-hued studio walls, and fragmented their faces across multiple 20 x 24-inch Polaroids. In the early 2000s, he took street photographs of South Side youth as he came across them on sidewalks and steps. As a whole, these portraits make visible a group who are not fully recognized by society, activating the sitters’ inner worlds for viewers to contemplate.