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Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives

Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives

On November 8-10, 2018, the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will host the first international scholarly conference devoted to Chicago’s design history. Renowned as a center of architectural innovation, Chicago has an equally rich history as a center of design activity. To explore that history is to reckon with both grand narratives and complex realities; taking a broad view of design, the conference aims to consider that history from a diverse range of topical and methodological viewpoints. The operations and outputs of retailers such as Sears, Roebuck, manufacturers such as Western Electric, and publishers such as the Johnson Publishing company are all desired subjects for the conference, as are more established figures and institutions in the city’s design history, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Hull-House, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the New Bauhaus, and Massimo Vignelli and Unimark. Chicago’s later twentieth-century history also remains virtually undiscussed, despite the city fostering creative cultures that often diverged from dominant coastal narratives. The conference aims to consider the prospect of a local design history for a city that has often been outward-looking, and will ask: Is Chicago only ever a second city, a microcosm of broader trends, or are there distinctive threads to be connected in its diverse communities, its tensions and interconnections, that shed light on developments elsewhere? What contribution can design history give to Chicago’s social and cultural histories by considering how design shapes a city, not only in terms of its skyline, but also in terms of its economic and social character? And more broadly, what are the stakes of exploring the relationship between design and place in our current age of pressing globalization?

Organized by Jonathan Mekinda (Assistant Professor, Art History and Design, UIC) and Bess Williamson (Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, SAIC), “Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives” is part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation presenting sponsor. Additional support is provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The call for papers will be published in early 2018, with proposals due in spring, 2018. Funding will be available to support participants’ travel and accommodation.

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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