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Art and Public Life Symposium Dossier

For video of the event, click here.


Art and Public Life

With the generous support of the Neubauer Collegium, Critical Inquiry and the Art and Public Life program at the University of Chicago will be sponsoring a symposium on October 4, 2014, to inaugurate a seminar and colloquium that will continue throughout the subsequent academic year.  Texts to be read in advance of the symposium are to be found below.

The concept of public art has undergone significant transformation in the last twenty years, moving from a confrontational stance in the era of the "culture wars" to a variety of practices that involve community participation and social activism.  Other developments such as the emergence of social media, new theories of "intimate" and "partial" publics, new concepts of "the commons" and community, technical transformations that impact the relations of publicity, secrecy, and privacy, the onset of a global "war on terror" along with a return of fundamentalist religion, and the rise of populist political movements have transformed both the idea and the experience of public life.  Indeed, the very idea of the public seems to be under siege in domains such as education, housing, and the rights of free speech and assembly. In 1993, Critical Inquiry published a special issue and book entitled Art and the Public Sphere that provided a landmark assessment of the nature of public art.  This project aims to update the findings of that moment, producing a fundamental reassessment of the conditions and possibilities for the arts and public life in our time.  In keeping with the new conditions of publicness, Critical Inquiry is publishing the following online dossier of brief statements by key figures in the Chicago arts scene.   We will convene the symposium on Saturday afternoon, October 4, 1:30-4:30, in the Penthouse of the Logan Center.  Persons wishing to participate in this symposium should prepare for it by reading the following statements.

- W.J.T. Mitchell


Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, "Art and the Public Space"

Susannah Bielak, "Public Art:  An Invitation to an Index"

Leela Gandhi, "The Contagious Self"

Hannah B Higgins, "On Subtlety"

Matthew Jesse Jackson, "Our Literal Speed, Dorchester Projects, Chicago, 3 October 2014"

Mary Jane Jacob, "Process as a Public Practice"

William Mazzarella, "The Mana of Mass Society: The Autonomy in Advertising"

Amy M. Mooney, "Public Art: Given a Chance, Can It Work for You?"

Geof Oppenheimer, "Specters in Public"

  • Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, 2012. Photo: W.J.T. Mitchell.