The Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, IL
September 23 - December 12, 2021
Digital & Media Art

Smart to the Core: Medium/Image

First opened in 1974, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is a site for rigorous inquiry and exchange that encourages the examination of complex issues through the lens of art objects and artistic practice. Through strong community and scholarly partnerships, the Museum incorporates diverse ideas, identities, and experiences into its exhibitions and collections, academic inquiry, and public programming. 


The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation contributed $25,000 and loans of several artworks from the digital & media art collection to the museum’s Smart to the Core: Medium / Image exhibition. Bringing together paintings, photographs, prints, and new media, this conceptually-driven exhibition traces the philosophical and aesthetic debates that examine Western culture’s relationship with visual media. The artworks on view delve into questions of mimesis and indexicality, systems of value and reception, the dynamics of mediation, and the gendered and racialized gaze. In doing so, Smart to the Core: Medium / Image seeks to interrogate the structures that underpin perception and explore the social impact of visual culture.

Smart to the Core: Medium / Image is the second in a series of exhibitions designed by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry to expand object-centered teaching across all fields and disciplines in the University of Chicago’s celebrated College Core, which introduces students to foundational texts that raise fundamental questions about human experience. This project was particularly inspired by, and curated for, the Humanities Division course “Media Aesthetics,” which focuses on “Image” in the fall (followed by “Text” and “Sound” in winter and spring). Throughout the 2021 fall quarter students interpret the artworks on view in tandem with the theories and texts associated with their course. Overall, this exhibition program showcases the ways in which the Smart Museum engages with and shares the intellectual life of the University with the broader public.

Community Served:

The Smart’s curators and education staff offer a suite of public programming, including gallery talks about works in the exhibition that feature the voices of faculty, graduate students, and educators. Artist talks with Laura Letinsky, Jason Salavon, and Endia Beal provide an in-depth look into artistic practices. A Media Aesthetics symposium highlights research by UChicago students, allowing viewers of the exhibition to delve further into art historical research by our academic community. The Smart also offers a moderated public conversation between Chicago-based curators and artists working in the field of new media. Additional online programming and remote resources include a video tour of the exhibition, a digital interpretation packet, and an interactive (and hard copy) booklet of student research and writing.

Works from the Thoma collection serve as primary source material for a team of twelve faculty from the Humanities department who teach the Media Aesthetics course to more than three hundred UChicago undergraduates in the fall while utilizing the Smart galleries as their classroom. 


Virtual Tour

Download the interpretation packet (PDF)

Why we partnered with the Smart Museum of Art:

  • Institution’s dedication to rigorous inquiry of digital & media arts
  • Alignment with the Thoma Foundation’s education mission to disseminate knowledge with students and the broader public 
  • Collaborative initiative involving our Curator of Digital Art, Jason Foumberg, to ensure selection of works that best support the exhibition’s education mission