“It’s a cult,” Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker said, addressing a room filled to the brim with art students from across Chicago. The statement was in response to a question posed by a student that he rephrased as, “Why does contemporary art work? How can artists get away with it?”
“It’s a cult,” Walker goes on to say, “the kind where you never know quite when you got into it.” The students laugh. They all know what he means. An outsider would laugh too, at their cultishness. The gathering was sponsored by the Renaissance Society and their partner group, the Wrens, a student organization at the University of Chicago that works to create connections between people making and discussing art in Chicago. The group brought students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago to the UofC campus and treated them to brunch and a tour of the museum’s latest exhibit. The event successfully fostered lots of conversations among students about how to host similar events in the future at other schools.
Fearless leader Walker took the students into the gallery and proceeded to walk them through the current exhibit, a series of photographs by American artist Allan Sekula. His commentary was filled with references only serious art students would understand, invoking the mystical names of art gods. His followers received it warmly. When Walker took a minute to stereotype the UofC students in one of Sekula’s photos, which shows a crowd waiting to see the statue outside of Pick Hall cast a shadow of the hammer and sickle, he got laughs from both the UofC and non-UofC attendees.
Some of the newly initiated trekked over to the Smart Museum and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore post-brunch to steep themselves in more art. As for the still-unconverted, they surely met some cool artsy people, got inspiration for outfits they will remind themselves never to wear, and finally saw some contemporary art they could stomach.