May 21st 2021

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.

Dawoud Bey, Sharmaine, Vicente, Joseph, Andre, and Charlie, 1993, Triptych, Internal dye diffusion transfer print. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Courtesy of the artist.

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.

Dawoud Bey: Portraits from Chicago (1993–2001) is presented by the Smart Museum of Art and Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago. It is an initiative of Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40, which is organized by the Smart Museum of Art in collaboration with exhibition, programmatic, and research partners across Chicago. Toward Common Cause is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and curated by Abigail Winograd, MacArthur Fellows Program Fortieth Anniversary Exhibition Curator, Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. Learn more about Toward Common Cause

Dawoud Bey

2017 MacArthur Fellow

Photo and Bio courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Dawoud Bey is a photographer and educator whose portraits of people, many from marginalized communities, compel viewers to consider the reality of the subjects’ own social presence and histories. Through his expansive approach to photography—which includes deep engagement with his subjects and museum-based projects—Bey is making institutional spaces more accessible to the communities in which they are situated.

During a residency in 1992 at the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Andover, Bey embarked on what would become an ongoing series of portraits of high school students. He made his artistic practice more public and accessible, involving the students in shaping their own representations and working in a semi-public studio. The resultant large-scale, multiple-image works are powerful expressions of the youthful subjects’ respective individualities, still in the throes of being formed and negotiated. Bey expanded on this project in Class Pictures (2002–2006), a body of work produced in collaboration with young people and institutions throughout the United States. In addition to playing a role in the construction of their psychologically rich portraits, the students provided written texts about themselves to accompany Bey’s photographs of them, creating another layer of evocative self-definition. The exhibitions, public programming, and educational outreach Bey conceived as components of Class Pictures turned the museum into a vehicle for creating a closer relationship between institutions, youth, and the communities they inhabit.

Official Website

More events on this date

Tags: , , , , , , ,