On a recent Wednesday evening, a crowd of MBA students gathered in the Harper Center Winter Garden to listen to Economics Professor Canice Prendergast lecture. Normally, this wouldn’t be an unexpected sight – Professor Prendergast has been teaching at Chicago Booth since 1990 and scores of MBA students have been transformed by the principles taught in his class ‘Managing the Workplace’. However, on this evening it wasn’t compensation policy or labor legislation that he came to discuss; he was talking about art.
It’s not widely known, but Chicago Booth is home to one of the largest and most eclectic modern art collections in the city. Visitors browsing our hallways will see large scale paintings, black and white etched drawings and neon signs hanging from the walls. The effect is striking, especially when viewed against the modern design of the Harper Center itself.
Professor Prendergast devotes his spare time to serving on a committee of five people – Mrs. Suzanne Deal Booth among them – who have actively curated the growing collection since 2005. They have been savvy enough to purchase work from many artists just before they become international superstars and this has resulted in lending an air of prestige to having a piece featured at Chicago Booth.
Modern art can be a difficult genre for the average viewer to engage with. How many times have you scratched your head while viewing a well-received but incomprehensible installation in your city’s art district? Professor Prendergast and the rest of the Booth committee understand this, and seek to explain how their artistic choices represent more than decorative adornment, or the latest in art scene cool. They are chosen to make you think.
As Professor Prendergast toured the building with thirty odd Booth students in tow, acting as our resident docent, he spoke avidly about the care and thoughtfulness given to the procurement of each one. There is no central theme to them all, he explained, other than that each should be thought-provoking in nature and, when viewed as a whole collection, represent a broad range of global artists. Professor Prendergast explained how both of these components reflect Chicago Booth’s culture of inquisition and curiosity, as well as the international array of faculty and students walking through its corridors day after day.
Judging by the rapt attention his audience gave him, it was clear Professor Prendergast’s efforts hadn’t gone to waste. He offers the tour periodically over the school year and it’s typically filled to capacity. While Booth students often glimpse the art while rushing off to class or on their way to a meeting, hearing the stories behind the pieces add yet another layer to the feeling of vitality and intellectual fervor that resides here.
If you’re curious to learn more about the art at Chicago Booth, you can view the pieces themselves through a virtual tour. Of course, you can always come to see them in real life, too – the works are on permanent display and open to the public during business hours from Monday-Friday. If you are visiting campus, I highly suggest you make time to browse the collection!