Mary Jane Jacob
Professor, Sculpture (1999). BFA, 1973, University of Florida; MA, 1976, University of Michigan. Concurrent Positions: Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at SAIC, Director of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice at SAIC. Exhibitions at SAIC Sullivan Galleries: A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action, 2014; News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory (Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Jooho), 2013; Wolfgang Laib, Unlimited Ocean, 2011; Kimsooja, Mumbai: A Laundry Woman, 2011; Studio Chicago, 2010; Learning Modern, 2009. Curatorial Projects: Awake: Art, Buddhism, and The Dimensions of Consciousness, 2003; Places with a Future, Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, 2001-08; Conversations at the Castle, Atlanta, 1996; Culture in Action, Chicago, 1993; Places with a Past, Spoleto Festival USA, 1991. Publications: Chicago Social Practice History Series (2014-15); Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Changed Society (2012); The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists (2010); Learning Mind: Experience Into Art (University of California Press (2009); Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art (2004).
Mary Jane Jacob is a curator, writer, and professor whose pioneering work in public and socially engaged art has expanded the practice and public discourse of art as a shared process. After serving as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and in Los Angeles, she shifted her workplace to the street, critically engaged the discourse of public space with her landmark site-specific and community-based exhibitions: Culture in Action in Chicago (now the subject of a major book Exhibition as Social Intervention: “Culture in Action” 1993, St. Martin’s Press/Afterall Books Exhibition Histories series); Conversations at The Castle during the Atlanta Olympics; and Places with a Past which catalyzed two decades of community engagement in Charleston, South Carolina.
Through hundreds of exhibitions, projects, and programs, Jacob has actively worked with artists to expand the practice and public discourse of art. Artist Daniel J. Martinez cites Culture in Action as one example in Tom Finkelpearl’s What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (Duke University Press, 2013), saying Jacob “created an environment that allowed the artists to approach their projects in ways that seemed fresh and exciting…The projects were very open-ended…This organic methodology—to say it was exciting would be an understatement. We were given an opportunity to set into motion something unknown.”
As Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she holds the post of Professor, she opened the Sullivan Galleries in 2008 in the famed Louis Sullivan Carson Pirie and Scott Building in the city’s Loop. As the public arm of SAIC, the galleries play a central role in fostering cooperation among the wider Chicago arts community. Furthering its position in fostering critical thinking and open dialogue, Jacob also launched in 2016 SAIC’s Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, which she now directs.
Mary Jane Jacob has probed creative practioners’ relationship to audiences and within society in her co-edited volumes Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art (University of California Press, 2004); Learning Mind: Experience into Art (University of California Press, 2009); Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Changed Society (University of Chicago Press, 2012); The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists (University of Chicago, 2010); and the five-volume Chicago Social Practice History series (University of Chicago, 2014-16). She is currently writing a book on the ideas and activism of John Dewey for artists today.
Jacob has also held academic positions as Distinguished Professor at Tokyo University of the Arts; Guest Professor of Public Art and New Artistic Strategies at the Bauhaus-Universität, Weimar, Germany, while also serving on the university’s first board of trustees; and adjunct faculty at the Graduate Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York. Among her honors, she has been awarded the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award, Public Art Dialogue’s Lifetime Award for Achievement in the Field of Public Art, and distinguished by the women's leadership organization ArtTable as one of the key influential women in the field of visual arts in the U.S. Jacob has also received professional grants from the Getty Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Peter Norton Family Foundation, and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. She is a frequent contributor to books and exhibition catalogues, and lectures widely.
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