[PDF] Curriculum Vitae

MARY JANE JACOB is a curator and author noted for her work on the national and international art scene. Recent anthologies, for which she is co-editor, are Learning Mind: Experience Into Art (University of California Press, Fall 2009), The Studio Reader (University of Chicago Press, Spring 2010), and Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Changed Society (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

In her role as Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibitions Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, recent major programs center around collaborative research with faculty, the inspirational site of Louis Sullivan’s landmark Carson, Pirie and Scott building, which serves as the primary site for exhibitions, and the wider context of Chicago.

As the public arm of the School, the galleries play a central role in fostering cooperation among the wider Chicago arts community, and is well positioned to undertake research and critical thinking in open dialogue with others.

The current project is “Chicago Social Practice.” The last two decades have seen an explosion of art in the social arena. To affect change in their world, artists have invented a vast range of strategies, bringing about a new understanding of process—as medium and as art—through collaboration and coalition building, marshaling invested and, at times, unlikely contemporary art publics. And while socially engaged works have often stymied art critics, this way of working persists and thrives. A missing link in this story is Chicago and its art at the intersection of education and activism, where individual and community experiences have come together, and artists’ practices been forged. As Chicagoan John Dewey proposed, this project is one of learning-by-doing. Thus, research takes the form of exchanges. One is the Chicago Social Club: a think-tank for local practitioners piloted in January 2012 and co-organized with Jim Duignan, DePaul University. This “club” meets monthly to bring together local artists and visitors around the salient questions in practice today. Culminating in an exhibition in the Sullivan Galleries in fall 2014, challenging expectations both in content and delivery of experience, this show will seek to convey the energy of Chicago’s historic and contemporary moments of exchange and change.

In 2009-11 “Living Modern Chicago” was a collaboration of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Mies van der Rohe Society/Illinois Institute of Technology, in partnership with other cultural institutions in Chicago. The centerpiece of this program was an exhibition entitled “Learning Modern,” which bridged the historic roots of American modernism in Chicago and its critical role in education in the mid-20th century, linking it to the contemporary critical practices of artists, architects, and designers. This research has led to the volume entitled Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Changed Society (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

In casting a wider net, in 2009-2010 “Studio Chicago” is a yearlong collaborative project that focuses on the artist’s studio: creativity, production, and infrastructure. Jacob convened a consortium of eight lead cultural institutions that—through exhibitions, talks, publications, tours, and research—aim to celebrate the working artist and reveal their sites of creative production from historical and contemporary perspectives. Programs and shows at SAIC undertaken with Michelle Grabner; they also co-edited The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Jacob has also brought international artists to do special commissioned projects for SAIC: Omer Fast, Amar Kanwar, Kimsooja, Wolfgang Laib, and Kamin Lertchaiprasert, along with alumni Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, J. Morgan Puett, and others. She also leads the advanced curatorial program offered to SAIC students.

Professor of Sculpture at SAIC, from 2004-08 Mary Jane Jacob served as Chair of the Department of Sculpture. From 2007-09 she was also Guest Professor of Public Art and New Artistic Strategies at the Bauhaus Universitat, Weimar, Germany, where she now serves on the university’s first board of trustees. Previously she was on the adjunct faculty at the Graduate Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York.

Having explored art outside the gallery and museum context, she has worked since 1990 as an independent curator organizing groundbreaking programs that have tested the boundaries of public space and relationship of contemporary art to audience. A continuous thread through these subjects is manifested by her work as Curator at the Spoleto Festival USA. This began in 1991 when she curated the critically acclaimed exhibition “Places with a Past,” commissioning 23 international artists to create installations in Charleston, South Carolina, that expanded upon the conventional story of the city’s history. This first such site-specific exhibition in the U.S. is documented in a major book published by Rizzoli. A landmark show, it was hailed as “the most moving and original exhibition in the United States this season” in The New York Times and Artforum named it one of the top 10 shows of the 1990s.

Nearly a decade later—and on the 25th anniversary of the Spoleto Festival USA—she returned to work in Charleston. Ms. Jacob now leads an ongoing public program that has stretched the ways in which the Spoleto Festival relates to the local scene, while at the same time proven to be a laboratory for public practice. Taking on various forms, in 2001 discursive community programs, art installations, and performances contrasted monuments with personal histories [“Listening Across Cultures and Communities”]; in 2002 international artists’ installations illuminated the contemporary cultural landscape of this cosmopolitan colonial capital of slavery, complemented by community programs [“The Memory of Water” and “The Memory of Land”]; in 2003 a performance-as-civic dialogue brought multiple constituencies into a discourse to map out a larger and more inclusive local discussion of the region’s rapid redevelopment [‘Latitude 32°/Navigating Home”]. Recognizing that the perception and representation of Charleston promotes as well as thwarts positive change in the social, built, and natural environment of the Lowcountry region, in 2004 “Places with a Future” was born. From 2004-03 interdisciplinary creative teams worked to have lasting effect on three locations in and around peninsular Charleston—sites whose future lay in responding to the present, embracing change, and moving beyond the preservation of fixed and often fictive concepts of the past.

As a leader in the field of public art and its expanded discourse, Ms. Jacob also developed other experimental, pivotal public art programs. Undoubtedly the most influential was “Culture in Action.” Organized for Sculpture Chicago, it took place over a two-year period (1991-93); artists worked in direct partnership with community members to explore the changing nature of public art, its relationship to social issues, and an expanded role of audience from spectator to participant and offered a new model for art in the urban context. A publication by Bay Press, Seattle, traced these multi-layered projects that took the form of monuments, parades, candy bars and billboards, hydroponic gardens, and a permanent youth media program. Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote that these “conceptually oriented public artworks update the City Beautiful tradition of integrating fine art into the urban fabric... using art and urbanism to reinforce each other” as part of a movement to “think globally, act locally.”

The debate around community practices sparked by “Culture in Action” found a platform in 1996 with “Conversations at The Castle.” Undertaken on the occasion of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and under the auspices of the Arts Festival of Atlanta, Ms. Jacob organized an international artists’ residency program that resulted in a public art exhibition whose home base was a turn-of-the-century mansion known as “The Castle.” It aimed to engage audiences through public participatory forms ranging from community collaboration, to installation-performances, to the Internet and an art project-cum-dinner-cum-symposium series. A two-week symposium/art project, “Conversations on Culture,” extended these conversations into working sessions for professionals within the art, public art, and social fields. An accompanying book, Conversations at The Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art, published by The MIT Press, has been cited as “addressing one of the most troubling questions of contemporary theory and practice—who is contemporary art for? – for the first time bringing artists, critics, and the public together to debate this problem and to make artmaking, criticism, and public reaction part of the same process.”

Ms. Jacob has also commissioned public sculptures and parks, along with other projects. While Program Director for Sculpture Chicago, she invited Ronald Jones to create a temporary block-long park in the downtown Loop in 1991. As consultant to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ferguson Fund, she commissioned Louise Bourgeois to design a permanent sculptural monument to Jane Addams, the social reformer and founder of Hull-House, as the focal point of a new lakefront park dedicated in 1996. Also in 1996 she collaborated on the development of a public art program “Points of Entry” for Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival. In the expanding field of public art, she has worked as an artist’s liaison for the Office of Surface Mining/U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Design and Museum/Visual Arts Programs to address remediation through art at acid mine drainage sites in Appalachia. She was consultant for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, commissioning and executing a major riverfront work by Magdalena Abakanowicz in 2004, and a major sculptural installation by Abakanowicz, Agora, for the south terminus of Chicago’s Grant Park completed in 2006.

Beginning in 2000 Mary Jane Jacob’s work on the subject of audience took the form of multi-year consortium effort among fifty museum and other arts professionals called “Awake: Art and Buddhism, and The Dimensions of Consciousness.” Based in the Bay Area and conceived/co-organized with Dr. Jacquelynn Baas, “Awake” explored the relationships between Buddhist practices and the arts in America; and the intersection of the mind in creativity, meditation, and perception of art. It resulted in numerous exhibitions, performances, and public programs across the U.S. Importantly, it also led to a book—Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art (University of California Press, 2004)—for which Ms. Jacob conducted insightful interviews with a dozen leading artists about their artmaking practices. In 2009 they published a second anthology entitled Learning Mind: Experience Into Art dealing with the nature of being an artist, experiencing art, and the relationship of pedagogy to making art.

In the late 1970s, while at The Detroit Institute of Arts, she organized numerous exhibitions that championed artists outside the mainstream, particularly those working beyond the so-called art center of New York, women, and those employing experimental or non-traditional art media. Most notable among these was “Kick Out the Jams: Detroit’s Cass Corridor 1963-1977,” a study of the city’s art, poetry, and counter-culture scene during this turbulent period. During the 1980s, as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Ms. Jacob staged some of the first U.S. retrospectives and one-person shows of American and European artists, as well as organized some of the key surveys of art of the period. These included: Poland’s Magdalena Abakanowicz, Italy’s Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz, Germany’s Rebecca Horn, France’s Christian Boltanski, England’s Richard Deacon, and Switzerland’s Dieter Roth, and Americans Gordon Matta-Clark and Ann Hamilton, along with “A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965” and a major survey of American art of the 1980s entitled “A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation.”

A participant in the international dialogue around the presentation of contemporary art, Ms. Jacob organized for Arts International, New York, some of the first worldwide curatorial forums to explore the changing demographics of the art world: Venice (1990), Sao Paulo (1991), and Barcelona (1993). She was selected by the USIA Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions to curate an exhibition of Carrie Mae Weems at DAK’ART 98, the African biennale of contemporary art in Dakar, Senegal. Simultaneously, she curated an exhibition of the work of Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson in the “Nucleo Historico” section of the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal.

Jacob served as Consulting Curator for The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, where from 1994-98 she undertook nearly 20 international artists to create experimental projects that extended the materials, techniques, and concepts of fabric. These works were featured in her major exhibition of the Workshop’s projects of the 1990s, which traveled in the U.S. and Canada in 1997-98.

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A frequent lecturer and contributor to museum catalogues and books, she received a BFA from the University of Florida, Gainesville. After study in Florence, Italy, she attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she received an M.A. in History of Art and Museum Studies. Ms. Jacob received the first Curator’s Grant from the Peter Norton Family Foundation. She is also a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts; Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio Study Center Residency; The School of the Art Institute’s Roger Brown Residency; and Getty Residency Program at Bard College, New York. At the 2010 College Art Association conference, she was awarded the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award and the Award for Achievement in the Field of Public Art from Public Art Dialogue. In 2011 she was honored by the women's leadership organization ArtTable as one of the key influential women in the field of visual arts in the U.S. In 2012 Jacob was awarded a Warhol Foundation Curatorial Research Fellowship for an upcoming major exhibition on Chicago Social Practice.


[CLICK] to read a recent interview with Mary Jane conducted by Never the Same.

[CLICK] to read the 2008 Chicago Tribune article, "Mary Jane Jacob of and beyond the School of the Art Institute," by Alan Artner.

[CLICK] to hear Duncan MacKenzie's interview with Mary Jane for the Bad At Sports contemporary art podcast.