Marketing & Communications: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Announces its 2015 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctorate Recipients

CHICAGO—The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), one of the nation’s leading art and design schools, will welcome contemporary artist Albert Oehlen to deliver the school’s 149th commencement address on Monday, May 11, at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress Parkway. Oehlen will receive an honorary doctorate from the school, along with esteemed honorees, including Kanye West, pioneering recording artist, songwriter, producer and entrepreneur; Douglas Druick, president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago museum; Rhona Hoffman, owner of Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago; and Janet Byrne Neiman, arts advocate and co-benefactor of SAIC’s LeRoy Neiman Center.

Since 1938, SAIC has awarded honorary degrees to an elite group of individuals who have made significant contributions to art, design, scholarship and culture. Past recipients include Yoko Ono, David Sedaris, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Jeff Koons, Theaster Gates, Patti Smith, Ed Harris, Käthe Kollwitz of the Guerilla Girls, Renzo Piano, Marina Abramovic, Jeanne Gang and Anna Deavere Smith. These influential individuals earned this distinguished award through their work, which is often provocative and boundary pushing, and shifts the cultural landscape. They are visionaries whose cultural contributions reflect SAIC’s interdisciplinary mission.

“This year’s honorees reveal the school’s considerable influence within the global art and design world but also the strength of our internal community and our integral relationship with our home city, Chicago,” said Walter E. Massey, president of SAIC. “In Albert Oehlen, Rhona Hoffman and Kanye West, we are honored to be welcoming three exceptional figures into the SAIC community, while in Douglas Druick and Janet Byrne Neiman, we are proud to be celebrating our roots and what has made the school such a special institution across its nearly 150-year history.”

More than 900 students are expected to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates from the prestigious art and design institution.

About the Honorees

Douglas Druick is the President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago museum. Prior to this position, Druick led two of the 11 curatorial departments at the museum as the Searle Curator and Chair of the Department of Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture as well as the Prince Trust Curator and Chair of the Department of Prints and Drawings. The Government of France named him an “Officier des Arts et Lettres” in 2012, and he was elected as a Fellow to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2013.

Druick was educated at McGill University in Montreal; University of Toronto; Oberlin College; and Yale University, where he received his PhD in art history. Druick is a leading scholar and curator in the field of 19th-century art, having organized or contributed to some of the most significant exhibitions in this area: Degas (1988); Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, 1840-1916 (1994); Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (1994); Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South (2001); Manet and the Sea (2003); Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte(2004); Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre (2005); Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde(2006); and, in contemporary art, Jasper Johns: Gray (2007).

Rhona Hoffman is the founder of the influential Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, which specializes in international contemporary art in all media, and art that is conceptually, formally or socio-politically based. Founded originally as Young Hoffman Gallery in 1976, it was one of the first galleries to offer exhibitions to women artists, including Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Sylvia Plimack Mangold.

Through her gallery, Hoffman has shown and nurtured young, emerging artists alongside more established ones. Among the artists the gallery has exhibited and/or continues to exhibit are Vito Acconci, Spencer Finch, Luis Gispert, Leon Golub, Robert Heinecken, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Ryman, Fred Sandback, Lorna Simpson, Nancy Spero, Richard Tuttle, Brian Ulrich, Carrie Mae Weems and Kehinde Wiley.

Hoffman is very active in the Chicago arts community and maintains strong relationships with museums, schools, local artists and arts organizations. Additionally, the gallery gives exposure to artists currently living in Chicago, such as Adam Brooks, Stephanie Brooks, Julia Fish, Judy Ledgerwood, Richard Rezac and Anne Wilson. Hoffman attended SAIC from 1980–83.

Janet Byrne Neiman is an advocate of the arts and took her first classes at SAIC while in high school. Her studies instilled a lifelong love for art and arts education. She received her degree from the Chicago Teachers College. After graduating, Neiman worked as a copywriter at Carson Pirie Scott where she met painter and SAIC alumnus, LeRoy Neiman, her future husband for more than 50 years.

In May 2011 Janet and LeRoy Neiman donated $5 million to fund the construction of a community campus center for SAIC students, faculty, staff and alumni. The 17,800-square-foot LeRoy Neiman Center opened less than a year later, on May 7. Today, the largest mural ever created by LeRoy—Summertime Along the Indiana Dunes, a 56-foot-wide, 448-square-foot piece co-signed by Janet and completed in 1965—hangs in the lobby outside the center.

Neiman is currently the Vice President of the Board of the LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation.

Albert Oehlen (commencement speaker) is a contemporary German artist and will serve as SAIC’s commencement speaker.

During the 1980s he began combining abstract and figurative elements of painting in his works as part of a reaction to the prevailing Neo-Expressionist aesthetic of the time. Oehlen’s spatially intriguing works are a strong reminder of the complex forces that were involved during the resurgence of painting at the latter part of the 20th century.

Oehlen has exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. Recent solo exhibitions have been held in institutions such as the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy and the Musee d' Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2009. He has also participated in exhibitions in major institutions such as the Musee Cantonal Des Beaux Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland, Renaissance Society in Chicago, and at the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland.

Kanye West is a Grammy Award–winning recording artist, songwriter, producer, designer, film director, entrepreneur, and painter.

Born in Atlanta in 1977, West spent his school years in Chicago's South Shore suburb. West attended Chicago State University and the American Academy of Art, but left college at the age of 20 to pursue a musical career. Over the course of a decade, West has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and garnered 53 Grammy nominations, along with numerous other accolades. He is among the most decorated and acclaimed artists of his generation.

As an interdisciplinary artist, West often provokes cultural discourse. He is an advocate for education, and a thinker and maker who often uses his work—his lyrics, videos, performances, fashion designs, and paintings—spur cultural discourse on important social issues.

About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

A leader in educating artists, designers, and scholars since 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers nationally accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees and post-baccalaureate programs to more than 3,200 students from around the globe. SAIC also provides adults, high school students, and children with the opportunity to flourish in a variety of courses, workshops, certificate programs, and camps through its Continuing Studies program. Located in the heart of Chicago, SAIC has an educational philosophy built upon an interdisciplinary approach to art and design, giving students unparalleled opportunities to develop their creative and critical abilities, while working with renowned faculty who include many of the leading practitioners in their fields. SAIC’s resources include the Art Institute of Chicago and its new Modern Wing; numerous special collections and programming venues provide students with exceptional exhibitions, screenings, lectures, and performances. For more information, please visit

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