Objects and Voices: A Collection of Stories Closing (Theater and Galleries) Member Picks Recommended

When: Feb. 11-June 14 2015

Institutions often treat their anniversaries as a way to trumpet a particular story­, to pick one narrative as the most representative, the most important, or the most publicly worth celebrating. The Smart Museum of Art’s 40th anniversary refuses to tie things up so neatly. Instead, “Objects and Voices: A Collection of Stories” opts for multiple histories; 17 curators associated with the Smart’s past and present have created 17 different exhibitions from the museum’s extensive holdings. The range is dazzling: a group of Rothko paintings tracing the painter’s move from realism to abstraction, objects from Japan’s entries at World’s Fairs, medieval architectural fragments, African-American paintings inspired by Ralph Ellison’s statements about black artists and art. Among the curators—artists, museum professionals, scholars, and students—the one with the highest profile is perhaps Chicago-based painter Kerry James Marshall, whose exhibit “The Naked and the Dead” focuses on nudes and corpses: four images of bodies, sex, and death arranged for your viewing pleasure. The curators all have limited space, but the conciseness of their statements serves to emphasize the individuality of each. The collections of objects on display here speak not with one institutional voice, but with many voices of personal eagerness and insistence: Look, look, look, the curators seem to say, at this history of Asian-American abstraction, at Otto Dix’s war prints, at this assorted collection of acquisitions given in honor of the museum’s 40th anniversary. The whole expresses the bracing joy of discovery, and reflects the fundamental power of art to address ideas both big (mortality) and small (passing interests). “Objects and Voices” is an exhilarating way to experience the Smart Museum’s unique capacity to speak for, and to, many people—an ability that only gets greater with age. Noah Berlatsky

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