Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society

Devin T. Mays, Untitled (Unnamed), 2023. Installation view, In Practice: Devin T. Mays, SculptureCenter, New York, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Regards, Chicago. Photo: Charles Benton.

April 24, 2024
Tony Lewis with Bethany Collins, Devin T. Mays & Ellen Rothenberg
May 1–July 14, 2024
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Reception: May 23, 5–7pm
Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
The University of Chicago
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637
United States
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Artists: Tony Lewis with Bethany Collins, Devin T. Mays & Ellen Rothenberg.

Chicago’s auspicious role in modern labor history lies at the heart of WORKS BY, a multi-faceted group show that will be on view at the Neubauer Collegium May 1 to July 14, 2024. The exhibition brings together the work of four Chicago-based artists whose practices converge in a shared interest in the many meanings of “labor” as well as the mysterious mechanics that regulate the fractious relationship between effort and value. The opening date is celebrated the world over as International Workers’ Day, though its roots reach back into a deeply local Chicago history – that of the storied Haymarket Affair of 1886. (The first International Workers’ Day was organized on May 1, 1890, to honor the eight labor activists wrongfully accused of instigating the Haymarket Massacre—and to rally support for the eight-hour workday, which the activists had been lobbying for so valiantly.)

The centerpiece of the exhibition will be a new graphite floor drawing, produced in situ by Tony Lewis (b. 1986). Work on this new piece will commence on the opening day of the exhibition, meaning that access to the gallery will be limited until the artwork is completed later in May—the labor of its making being the primary attraction until that time. Lewis’s floor drawings are made by manually rubbing graphite powder onto large swaths of construction paper, resulting in dark, dust-coated expanses of monochrome gray. These works call attention to the seemingly mindless chore and anti-theater of their production, though there is evidently a mystical element at play in the smudgy void they engender. (Consider the analogy with the art of the mandala and comparable exercises in monastic focus and absorption.) Upon the exhibition’s conclusion, the floor drawing will be rolled up into a giant paper ball, to be unwrapped in a different context at a later date.

Lewis has invited Devin T. Mays (b. 1985) to devise a series of performative interventions into his workspace over the first three weeks of the exhibition. The interventions will include sculptural elements of a distinctly workaday nature: pallets collected during the artist’s wanderings around Chicago’s South Side. Erased: (Unrelated), a large photograph by Bethany Collins (b. 1984), will be installed in the Neubauer Collegium lobby until the completion of Lewis’s floor piece, when it will be transferred to the gallery. The image captures a cloud of chalk dust released into a black void—the microscopic remnants of the word “unrelated,” repeatedly written on a blackboard and then erased. Made in 2012 and included as part of Collins’s deeply personal White Noise series, this photograph presages the artist’s subsequent works centered on the laborious rituals of erasure and loss for which she has since become well-known, and which help shed light on one of this exhibition’s founding questions: How much “work” does it take to make art seem effortless—and the laboring body wholly absent?

Two new photo pieces by Ellen Rothenberg (b. 1948) complete the picture conjured in WORKS BY. One is of a work boot, which will be exhibited on the gallery’s east-facing exterior wall. The other is of a giant lump of crumpled paper that was once a Barbara Kruger mural (Rothenberg made the photograph during the dismantling of Kruger’s retrospective at MoMA in 2022). The latter photo will be mounted on a free-standing wall that will be placed on top of Lewis’s finished floor drawing. It will become fully accessible following a second opening reception on May 23.

The variegated fruits of these artists’ toils and exertions will remain on view until July 14, 2024: Bastille Day, commemorating another landmark event in the long history of the making of the working class.

Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
April 24, 2024

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