Connecting Art with Business in London
A powerful collection of contemporary art at Chicago Booth’s London campus speaks to the institution’s investment in bold ideas and new voices.
- March 28, 2022
Against the backdrop of elegant floor-to-ceiling windows and a picturesque view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a vibrant selection of contemporary art at Chicago Booth’s new London campus makes a powerful statement.
Unapologetically, an exhibit on loan from the collection of Katie and Felix Robyns, ’85, focuses on the work of emerging artists and of artists from the African diaspora. It’s a reflection of Booth’s investment in young minds—and fresh perspectives, whether from future business leaders or new voices in modern art.
“The University of Chicago continues to look forward and to build on its remarkable history,” says Canice Prendergast, the W. Allen Wallis Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, who oversees Booth’s global art collections. “By focusing on emerging artists, the collection offers them a platform to comment on our current world, and symbolically shows the orientation of the school toward the future.”
Although Unapologetically includes several works by established artists such as Bridget Riley and Walter Swennen, it is first and foremost a platform to amplify the voices of new global artists such as Armand Boua (Ivory Coast), Zéh Palito (Brazil), and Toyin Ojih Odutola (Nigeria). It also shines a light on discussions of race, gender, colonialism, and human rights around the world.
Boua’s work Untitled, for example, depicts a group of anonymous children against a rough acrylic-and-tar background to comment on the dismal living conditions of children in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in the wake of political and social upheaval. In Actual Fiction, Odutola highlights the invisibility of Black bodies in US society through the portrait of a Black face that blends into the background behind it.
“Art doesn’t offer answers but rather, encourages the viewer to reflect and ask questions. This dynamic is the perfect parallel to the Booth way of thinking.”
“A central part of Booth’s mission is to help its members to better understand the world that we live in,” says Prendergast. “Many of the artists in this collection are doing the same. They’re commenting on issues like globalization, social and demographic identity, humility, and the role of the media, but they’re doing so using a medium that is different to those that we use. The collection allows our students, staff, and faculty to see how commentary on the world can take a myriad of forms.”
Unapologetically adds to Booth’s growing reputation as a world-class art destination. The school began to collect art in a serious way in 2004 to complement the soaring design of the newly opened Charles M. Harper Center in Chicago. Today, the Harper Center contemporary art collection includes 500 works by more than 120 artists from around the globe.
In London, Unapologetically’s emphasis on color and the human figure creates a striking contrast to the building’s modern furniture and minimalist boardrooms, drawing the eye to works that pop with brilliant yellows, blues, and golds. The range in style and method of the works on display underscores Booth’s commitment to diversity of approaches, experiences, and backgrounds.
“Art collections have become integral features at all of Booth’s campuses,” says Randall S. Kroszner, deputy dean for Executive Programs and the Norman R. Bobins Professor of Economics. “Art doesn’t offer answers but rather, encourages the viewer to reflect and ask questions. This dynamic is the perfect parallel to the Booth way of thinking. Our students learn to challenge assumptions in their search for new ideas and solutions to problems.”
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