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Exhibition Presents New and Innovative Work by Artists
Artur Silva, Decadence Avec Elegance, 2009, Inkjet on vinyl. Courtesy of the artist.

CHICAGO, IL.- The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art presents Heartland, a new exhibition that examines innovative forms of artistic creation taking place in the geographic center of the United States. Organized by the Smart Museum and the Van Abbemuseum, one of Europe’s premier contemporary art institutions, the exhibition illuminates a diverse assembly of artists who are responding to the world around them and reshaping it in unexpected ways.

On view from October 1, 2009 to January 17, 2010, Heartland features site-specific installations and performances as well as drawing, photography, and video by artists and artist groups who are working in—and in response to—Detroit, Kansas City, and other cities and rural communities across the region. The artists and artist groups—both denizens of the region and outside artists-in-residence—include Carnal Torpor, Cody Critcheloe, Jeremiah Day, Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, Design 99, Scott Hocking, Kerry James Marshall, Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor, Greely Myatt, Marjetica Potrč, Julika Rudelius, Artur Silva, Deb Sokolow, and Whoop Dee Doo.

Much of the work on view was discovered as the exhibition curators—Charles Esche and Kerstin Niemann from the Van Abbemuseum and Stephanie Smith from the Smart Museum—embarked on a series of road trips throughout the American Heartland. Infused with the spirit of the open road, Heartland presents the unfettered, alternative visions of artists whose work challenges our understandings of place, community, and the role of contemporary art in shaping our changing world.

In 2007 and 2008, the Heartland curators, eschewing traditional research methods, set out on a series of old-fashioned road trips through the vast center of the United States. During the trips, they explored the independent networks of cultural production that are thriving outside of traditional centers of artistic creation. (The curators documented these experiences in a research blog,

The road trips informed two distinct exhibitions. The first presentation, which opened in October 2008 at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, sought to uncover new ways of thinking about the American interior during the U.S. presidential election and gave European audiences access to a broad survey of the Heartland’s culture, art, and music. The second, reconceived presentation at the Smart Museum, offers U.S. audiences a more focused look at an inventive selection of artists who are responding to and remaking the world around them. Together, the two presentations offer a richly layered reading of artistic production that is connected to and yet on the periphery of the global contemporary art world.

Exhibition Overview and Sections
Responding to the Van Abbemuseum’s kaleidoscopic survey of regional art and music, the Smart Museum of Art’s presentation of Heartland focuses on ideals of resourcefulness and invention. The exhibition balances a select group of works from across the wider region with deeper explorations of interrelated groups of artists working in Detroit and Kansas City. Like Chicago, these cities have proven particularly hospitable to artists who approach their work with a do-it-yourself sensibility that the curators describe as “making the world you want to live in.” Heartland will premiere new commissions and present recent works by artists and artist groups active in these areas, featuring performances and sculptural installations that echo Heartland’s overarching theme of community by inviting viewer participation. The exhibition concludes with an epilogue that leads visitors into a related display featuring Chicago-based artists in the Smart’s permanent collection.

Introduction: Visitors to the Smart Museum will be greeted by two major works that suggest Heartland’s breadth of subject matter, media, and perspective. The Brazilian-born, Indianapolis-based artist Artur Silva brings an immigrant’s perspective to Decadence Avec Elegance (2009), a rainbow-hued digital collage that will be presented in the Smart’s outdoor sculpture garden. Memphis-based sculptor Greely Myatt makes playful reference to intensive agricultural labor in the large-scale Cleave (2008), which will be installed on the grand wall of the Museum’s reception hall. Artists featured: Artur Silva and Greely Myatt.

Detroit: Finding resources where others have generally only seen decay, the Detroit-based artists featured here transform the underused buildings and vacant lots of the city’s depopulated urban landscapes into optimistic, socially engaged works of art. One example of this worldview can be seen in the work of Design 99, a husband-and-wife team who use their storefront space as a base for a range of activities that make inventive use of local resources. For the exhibition, Design 99 hit the road to create a new work. Built from materials gathered during road trips to independent art spaces around the region, Heartland Machine (2009) transforms the empty framework of an old boat into a portable and expandable sculpture. Artists featured: Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, Design 99, Scott Hocking, and Marjetica Potrč.

Kansas City: If Heartland’s Detroit artists adapt the world as it is, the artists seen in this section are working to restructure the world entirely. A proponent of this aesthetic is Whoop Dee Doo, the artist-led dance and variety show central to an emerging community of artists’ groups in the city. The Smart will present Whoop Dee Doo’s first museum commission. In a performance at the Experimental Station on October 2, the artists will partner with homegrown Chicago talent to present a kid-friendly faux public access television show. Whoop Dee Doo will also create a sculptural installation within the Smart, featuring a scale model of the set and video outtakes from the performance. Artists featured: Carnal Torpor, Cody Critcheloe, and Whoop Dee Doo.

Radical Center: This section considers the region’s legacy of progressive social and civil rights movements. The Midwest Radical Culture Corridor (MRCC), for example, is a far-flung group of artists, writers, and thinkers whose work illuminates the interconnectivity between rural communities and global concerns. For the exhibition, the MRCC’s Compass Group will map regional energy- and food-related infrastructure through an installation at the Museum as well as a text-and-image piece that will be circulated to wider audiences within AREA magazine. Artists featured: Compass Group working in the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor, Jeremiah Day, and Kerry James Marshall.

Epilogue: Heartland concludes with two works that offer distinct counterpoints to the optimism of the central exhibition while exploring what happens when one ventures out of the Heartland. The epilogue features Deb Sokolow’s text-and-image wall drawing Dear Trusted Associate (2008–2009). The work’s paranoid narrator—the artist’s alter ego—investigates conspiracies that lurk just beneath the surface of daily life, first in Chicago, then on a journey to Eindhoven, and finally back home in the Heartland. In collaboration with the Smart Museum and Chicago Public Schools, Sokolow will be an artist-in-residence at Daniel Boone Elementary School during fall 2009. Artists featured: Deb Sokolow and Julika Rudelius.

Related works from Chicago: This related installation reflects the Smart Museum’s long-standing commitment to innovative presentations that situate Chicago-based art within a global context—a commitment grounded by a significant permanent collection featuring Chicago artists from the 1950s to the present. Sokolow’s wall drawing will act as a hinge between the exhibition and this presentation, which suggests connections between Heartland and the exhibitions and ephemera produced by the Chicago Imagists.

Smart Museum of Art | Charles Esche | Kerstin Niemann | Carnal Torpor | Cody Critcheloe | Jeremiah Day |

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