CHICAGO: Hospitality and Heartland

When I got back from Southeast Asia this spring, I set Feast research aside to dive back into other projects. The most consuming has been Heartland, the Smart's next major contemporary project--a two-part exhibition that we developed in partnership with the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands. The big beautiful book is now on its way to press (hurrah!) and we're gearing up to present the American version of the exhibition at the Smart in the fall.

[Shameless promo: Come one come come all to the public opening at  the Smart on October 1, 2009 and to the Kansas City-based artist group Whoop Dee Doo's kid-friendly variety show at the Experimental Station on October 2; this photo is from their show at the Bemis Center in Omaha last summer. All programs are free and everyone's welcome.]

WhoopDeeDoo_2.jpg I mention Heartland here in connection to hospitality, which is one of the themes underpinning Feast. What, for instance, does it mean to be a good host? What are the qualities that we experience as hospitable when we encounter them in people, institutions, communities, even at more abstract levels like "the state"? What are the pleasures and costs of different forms of hospitality? And how and why might any of this to be relevant to art and museums?

We talked about some of these questions during the curatorial team's research for Heartland. As Charles Esche, Kerstin Niemann, and I roadtripped around the central US--driving between Kansas City and Omaha, for instance, with the Missouri River flashing in and out of our peripheral vision, amidst rolling hills and dying river towns and massive farms--we talked about institutional hospitality. Under Charles's leadership, the Van Abbemuseum has claimed hospitality as a core value, something the staff thinks about day by day as they make choices about exhibitions, collections displays, audience outreach. It's something that the Smart has been thinking deeply about as well, for example as we try to balance rigor and generosity in exhibitions like Heartland. The question of if/how to be hospitable at all levels is live and unresolved at both museums--we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep, to paraphrase a poem. So as we drove through the patchworked landscape we'd return to this juicy crucial topic from time to time, mile by mile.

And then we'd get to the next new place. We were working primarily by what Kerstin calls a "word-of-mouth" method, so we usually knew a few people and places in advance but always left time to see what might emerge along the way. Without fail, we'd be welcomed and led to others--colleagues, friends-of-friends, curious strangers--all of whom seemed ready to give a tour, share a meal, tell a story, open a studio, ask a question, make an introduction. Each of those welcomes shaped the resulting exhibitions and book in some way; without the hospitality we encountered on the roadtrips, the exhibition wouldn't have been possible. We found a spirit of hospitality in much of the art as well, and although this isn't the place for me to explore that further it certainly shines through Whoop Dee Doo's approach. Perhaps these layered experiences of hospitality will be somehow palpable to those who encounter the project through the book or shows, even at several removes from our roadtrip research.

There's a lot more to say about all of this of course. There are nuanced and maybe even conflicting motives behind any offer of hospitality, and that's surely the case for our museums as well as for those who welcomed our peripatetic little band of curators. Questions of reciprocity and power between host and guest are worth exploring too. And to get back to Feast, I haven't yet really grappled with what it means add the adjective "radical" onto that lovely noun. All issues to return to later in relation to institutions, art, and research travels.


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This page contains a single entry by Stephanie Smith published on July 19, 2009 9:19 PM.

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Blog Description

This is an informal curatorial research blog for Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, an exhibition about the meal as a medium for contemporary artists. The exhibition opens at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art in February 2012.