• Threshold Series: Uppers and Downers
    Chris Vorhees and SIMPARCH
    Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
    Jan 10, 2012 to Dec 01, 2012
    University of Chicago-Smart Museum of Art

Chris Vorhees and SIMPARCH, partial installation view of Uppers and Downers, 2012, LED lighting, metal, plumbing fixtures, PVC sheet, water, and wood. Photo: Jeremy Lawson.

The Threshold series is a new annual exhibition and commissioning program designed to energize the Smart Museum's elegant modernist lobby. Launched in 2010, this program transforms our most prominent space with major installations of contemporary art, ensuring that all visitors—whether they have come to the building for an exhibition or just for a cup of coffee—are instantly surrounded by works of art that reflect the energy, innovation, and forward momentum of this institution. For the second work in this series, the Smart Museum commissioned the art-architectural collaborative team of Chris Vorhees and SIMPARCH to create their first long-term project for a United States museum. Uppers and Downers (2012) is a site-specific sculptural intervention that showcases the artists' seriously playful aesthetic, their sensitive reworking of everyday materials, and their capacity to transform the ways that people interact with and within architectural spaces.

Chris Vorhees (b. 1972; based in Cincinnati, OH) is a sculptor and furniture maker who brings exquisite craft skills and a deep sense of play to his projects. Vorhees's solo work has been shown at the Henry Art Gallery (2002); Bard College (2003); the Illinois State University Art Gallery (2004); New Gallery for Contemporary Art, Louisville (2007); and the Herron School of Art and Design (2010). He received an Efroymson Fellowship Award in 2009.

SIMPARCH's sculptural installations blend art, design, and architecture, and often involve public participation. Their breakout project, Free Basin—a luscious sculpture installation and functioning skate bowl—was commissioned for the Hyde Park Art Center in 2000 by Hamza Walker and recreated at Documenta XI (2002); Deitch Projects (2002), and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2004). Their work has been featured at the Renaissance Society (2001), the Tate Modern (2005), and the Venice Biennale of Architecture (2008). SIMPARCH was founded in 1996 by Steven Badgett (b. 1962; based in Chicago, IL) and Matt Lynch (b. 1969; based in Cincinnati, OH).

Since 2007, Midwest-based artists Chris Vorhees, Steven Badgett, and Matt Lynch have collaborated on a series of Formica table projects that provide the basis for Uppers and Downers (2012). One of these, Home Office (2008), was featured in Heartland (2009), an exhibition coorganized by the Smart Museum and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The artists note that "as object makers in a postindustrial environment, we are informed by the practice of outsourcing as well as romantic notions of craft. Midwestern humility has led us to engage in collaborative projects, where we are at ease serving a collective vision. Midwestern practicality leads us to projects with 'functional' aspects."

Stephanie Smith joined the Smart Museum as associate curator in 1999 and was named deputy director and chief curator in 2010. She is an affiliate member of the University of Chicago's Department of Visual Arts and a contributing editor to the journal Afterall. She has held curatorial positions at Rice University, where she earned her MA in art history, and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. For her ambitious contemporary exhibitions such as Beyond Green (2005) and Heartland (2009), Smith has been named one of the most visionary curators in Chicago. Smith conceived of the Threshold series and oversaw the Uppers and Downers commission.

As the art museum of the University of Chicago, the Smart Museum of Art takes a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to the collection, display, and interpretation of art. Founded in 1974, the Smart is home to acclaimed special exhibitions and a permanent collection that spans five thousand years of artistic creation. Working in close collaboration with scholars from the University of Chicago, the Smart has established itself as a leading academic art museum and an engine of adventurous thinking about the visual arts and their place in society.