Smart Students, Smart Families

The pristine walls of the Smart Museum house many of the University of Chicago’s greatest artistic assets. It makes sense, then, that the museum would be included in the program of the University’s Family Weekend, when parents come to tour the institution to which they have entrusted their children and tuition money. On Sunday, visiting UofC parents, a segment of the population that is always ready for cultural enrichment, were treated to a tour of the museum’s galleries. As on most Sunday afternoons, the Smart Museum’s cafe and courtyard were filled with the usual students and art lovers, enjoying the nice weather outside and the aesthetically pleasing atmosphere inside. The tour itself drew a sizable crowd of parents, with a few students and other family members mixed in, all of them ready for a break from the routine Family Weekend meetings and free food events. In addition to covering the main highlights of the museum–the table and chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the galleries dedicated to Asian, European and contemporary art–the tour also pointed out some of the connections between the Smart Museum and other parts of the University. These connections range from the expected (graduate students in the UofC art department help design the format of exhibitions) to the slightly quirky: the tour guide cited an exhibit about “a naturalist in the art museum” as an example of the UofC’s penchant for interdisciplinary projects. The exhibit itself consisted of a mannequin dressed as a naturalist with images of insects that had been found living in the museum, captured and examined under a microscope as a backdrop–definitely a change from the 19th century German Romanticism exhibition in the next room. After the tour ended, many of the parents stayed to wander around the museum, relieved or perhaps alarmed to find that there is more at the UofC than the econ boot-camp they thought they sent their sons and daughters to. For most of them, Family Weekend would be a two-day sojourn into the academic world and an opportunity to sample the mania both for creating and collecting that distinguishes museums from the rest of the world.