Chicago Booth’s Artistic Heritage

Chicago Booth’s Artistic Heritage

As an art enthusiast in Chicago, I set out to explore the city’s art scene, only to be left mesmerized.

Chicago’s artistic journey began with a literal blank canvas after the Great Fire of 1871. The subsequent reconstruction efforts saw the establishment of The Art Institute in 1879, which later found its home in a Beaux-Arts palace of fine arts following the World’s Columbian Exposition. This set the stage for the city’s cultural evolution, providing a foundation for artistic endeavors that continue to thrive today.

Chicago’s art scene isn’t confined to museums alone; it’s ingrained in the city’s streets, neighborhoods, and architectural marvels. From the mural-adorned streets of Pilsen to the eclectic galleries in Wicker Park, and the ever-evolving street art in the Loop, Chicago’s grit and determination, rooted in its industrial past, have contributed to a thriving and diverse artistic community.

And it came as no surprise to me, that the best place to begin was closest to home – at Chicago Booth’s Harper Center!

Taking the Harper Collection’s tour with Professor Canice Prendergast was one of my favorite experiences at Booth. This collection, curated by a Steering Committee of 5 connoisseurs, embodies the principles of experimentation, invention, risk-taking, and inclusivity – qualities etched in Booth’s academic ethos.

Started in 2004, as a small project to “put something on the walls” of the newly designed Harper Center, this collection is now a prestigious art gallery in itself with ~800 pieces of art that have appreciated about 5-10 times in value and traveled the world (much like Booth students!)

Professor Canice shared fascinating stories about the art and artists, many of whom were discovered by him and his team before reaching fame. He fondly recalled working with these artists as they often commissioned pieces specially for Booth. For instance, “Ideas of Stone” —fondly known as “the tree”— is a large-scale outdoor sculpture located outside of the Harper Center that was created by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone in 2004, with eight granite rocks lodged in the branches that Penone carefully collected from a river near his home.

Some other pieces that captured my curiosity:

1) Constellation series – Paul Chan

  • Constellation series– Paul Chan

Paul Chan’s “Constellation Series” reimagines constellations from the Milky Way galaxy as endangered principles of democracy, like the freedom of press. In Paul’s words, “Let us rename the stars and constellations to remember the things we have lost and the things we have yet to gain.” The placement of such thought-provoking art, like “Constellation Series,” in areas where future business leaders convene is a nice reminder of our role in shaping and preserving societal ideals. Check these out right outside the Career Services Suite!

2) Information overload – Parker Ito:

Information overload – Parker Ito:

I have always been curious about this one. Every time I cross this on my way to class, I wonder what it represents. Personally installed by the artist, Parker Ito, this piece represents the information overload that plagues most of us today (takes me back to Fall quarter of first year!). Ito who belongs to the “post” era of artists, specifically post-internet –blurring the boundaries between online and offline experiences, incorporating digital elements, internet aesthetics, and technology into traditional artistic mediums.

3) Payroll – Cameron Rowland

Cameron Rowland is a contemporary artist, who challenges societal structures through his conceptual works that delve into issues of power, inequality, and the complex relationship between objects and their cultural contexts. “Payroll” symbolizes capitalism and social inequity, using a table from the New York City Office of Payroll Administration – serving as a reminder of the broader societal implications embedded in seemingly mundane objects.

4) Mark Grotjahn – Untitled

These paintings represent the risk and opportunities of business – Mark Grotjahn seems to have experimented with his “butterfly” painting series – geometric paintings and drawings explore the constructs of dual and multi-point perspective – to showcase his vision of what business means, by sharing his winnings and losses at casinos, from the ~$5K given to him by Chicago Booth for the art.

Beyond the Collection

Harper Center not only houses an inspiring collection but also provides UChicago students with special access to over 70 arts and culture organizations throughout Chicago. The UCID acts as a ticket to various cultural events, and the Arts Passport on Canvas keeps students informed about ArtsPass Exclusives – offering behind-the-scenes access, reduced admission, and even free transportation to cultural institutions across the city.

In a city where art is not just confined to museums but is woven into the very fabric of its streets and institutions, Chicago stands as a testament to the enduring relationship between creativity, history, and community. The artistic journey through Chicago’s museums and beyond is an immersive experience, inviting enthusiasts to explore, question, and appreciate the ever-evolving narrative of this dynamic city.

Want to learn more? Check out the links below for more information: