Faculty Profile


“If Andy Warhol and the Factory opened a path into post-modern, artistic entrepreneurialism, then Jeff Koons and the Young British Artists have gone and paved it.”

Master of Arts Administration Department (Chair)
Courses: Extreme Arts Administration, Critical Issues in Contemporary Culture
Education: University of California, San Diego, M.F.A.; The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, B.F.A.

By Yvonne Dutchover

Gregory Sholette is a jack of all trades. A prolific writer, artist, activist, and currently the Chair of the Masters of Arts Administration Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sholette has enough publications, shows, and awards (including a Faculty of the Year Award from 2002), to make you wonder how one man has both the time and the energy to do so much work. From drawing lessons at age six in Philadelphia, to Cooper Union School of Art in New York, and now at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sholette shares some of his influences and experiences, including his role in PAD/D and REPOhistory.

How did you come to practice art?

Thanks to my precocious and obsessive drawing activity, my parents sent me to weekly art classes from about the age of six. Later, I attended the Bucks County Community College where I studied drawing, sculpture, and avant-garde music and cinema. As it turns out, I am the only one of four children who now has a college degree.

I moved to the Lower East Side of New York City in 1977 to attend The Cooper Union School of Art. I rented a room from an energetic octogenarian social activist and former union organizer named Sophie Saroff, who quite literally re-educated me about U.S. history.

At Cooper Union, I primarily worked with German artist Hans Haacke, whose systems-based conceptual projects investigated institutional power within the art world. I saw in Haacke’s work a way that the sort of alternative picture of history and society I was learning about might intersect with art making.

After graduation in 1980 I helped found a group with art critic Lucy R. Lippard and others (including SAIC’s Vanalyne Greene) called Political Art Documentation and Distribution, or PAD/D. Working with this organization for five years taught me a great deal about administration “in situ,” so to speak. But in retrospect I wish I knew even half of the material students in the Arts Administration program here learn. It is important to note that PAD/D’s archives of activist art are now in the library at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

In 1989 I helped co-found another art collective called REPOhistory and in 1992 at the age of 38, I finally went back to get my M.F.A., primarily in order to teach, at the University of California at San Diego. There I studied with Jean Pierre Gorin, a collaborator with filmmaker Jean Luc Godard, and with Steve Fagin, Fred Lonidier, Bruce Wayne in Literature, and of course Eleanor and David Antin. In fact, so interdisciplinary was this program that I made sculptures and photographs in my studio while writing about art and all the while teaching cinema theory and history!

Do the two roles of artist and administrator in any way conflict?

First of all, the situation is more complex. Artists are increasingly aware of the need to understand art as a market as well as a creative activity. Being “pro-active” about one’s artistic career these days means knowing how the institutional art world functions. Openly, and at times voraciously, artists today even seek certain administrative business skills. These include grant writing, resume building, and even self-marketing. Whether this situation is the result of lost public funding that has pushed artists and non-profit organizations to seek ever more private support, or more generally a reflection of the near absolute ideology of global market economics, younger artists are simply unwilling to risk sitting in their studios and waiting for the proverbial knock on the door by a Leo Costelli or Mary Boone. If Andy Warhol and the Factory opened a path into post-modern, artistic entrepreneurialism, then Jeff Koons and the Young British Artists have gone and paved it. No matter how much one may despise the cynical excesses of some of these practices, one fact is clear: it is impossible today for even the most esoteric or subversive artist to perceive art and business as essentially adversarial institutions brought together in a dubious embrace for reasons of mutual necessity. The study of the art world as an industry should be a required subject for all students, especially in an art school setting.

For those unfamiliar with their history, what are REPOhistory and PAD/D? And what was your role in these projects?

REPOhistory was founded in 1989 in New York City by a heterogeneous group of visual artists, performers, activists, and educators and based in part on a three-page proposal that I circulated. Between 1992 and 2000 the group produced over a dozen collaborative art projects primarily in public locations in New York City and Atlanta, Georgia. Our mission consisted of “repossessing” the unknown or forgotten histories of working-class men and women, of minorities and children, at specific urban sites.

REPOhistory’s primary means of doing this involved three components. First, we installed a series of artist-designed street signs at or near the location of each “lost” history to be “recovered.” Second, we created maps of the entire region of the city undergoing one of REPOhistory’s historical revisions and then printed and distributed these for free. And finally, we made certain to publicize these critical re-mapping projects and not in the art press only, but in mass media publications including the New York Times and the Village Voice.

What about PAD/D?

There is much I could say about PAD/D, perhaps the key aspect of that group for today’s activists, however, was its desire to construct a network of people and organizations doing similar, socially engaged work. This was way before the Internet and yet it still represents a model I think to be reconsidered, as the need for what we might call a counter-hegemonic cultural practice appears to be paramount.

How does activism influence your work?

Activism is a tricky concept to define and especially as it relates to art and academia. But I would like to think that I am strongly influenced, directly at times and subtly at other times, by those engagements that take place outside the circumscribed concerns of the Art World. These include supporting issues such as fair housing, health care, equitable income distribution, cultural and ethnic diversity, environmental justice, and freedom of speech and privacy (both of these must be closely defended today), as well as in general an anti-militaristic stance necessitated by recent political events in this country.

How does SAIC’s Arts Administration program differ from other administration programs by being part of an art school? Are there any particular things the program does to take advantage of this situation?

In a sense, we have sought to strengthen what is most unusual about having such a program in an art school, while stabilizing the thing we hold in common with other arts administration programs: the business curriculum. We have achieved the latter by partnering with DePaul University’s Public Services Graduate Program.

On the artistic side, it is an explicit goal of the Master of Arts in Arts Administration at SAIC to bring the differences between “artists” and “art administrators” into productive proximity with one another. Within the program’s curriculum, for instance, we have recently added several classes including the Collaborative Projects class, a Colloquia Series, and a courses in Critical Theory that I teach, as well as one focused on Cultural Policy issues taught by Rachel Weiss, Chair of Exhibition Studies.

Are there any artists or activists whose work you admire?

Many. I would say that anyone struggling to work as a progressive activist at this historical moment deserves admiration. And that includes many of my colleagues at [SAIC], including our Dean, Carol Becker, who supports an activist spirit here and such overtly activist faculty as Gregg Bordowitz, Mary Patten, Jeffrey Skoller, Paul Elitzik, Maria Benfield, Lori Palmer, John Ploof, Michael Piazza, and Faith Wilding, among many others. And I also admire the work of many artists’ groups or micro-institutions including: the Independent Media Center Temporary Services (Chicago), Las Agencias, RTMark, Critical Art Ensemble, Reclaim the Streets, ABC No Rio, Reverend Billy, Ultra-Red, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Ne Pas Plier, Wochenklausur, A-Clip, Collectivo Cambalache, Blackstone BicycleWorks/monk prakeet/Dan Peterman, the Stockyard Institute, and the group Ha Ha (Laurie Palmer and John Ploof of SAIC who develop projects on AIDS, ecology, and housing in Chicago and elsewhere).

Are there any projects you’re working on now?

I am currently working on a series of artist’s pages for the Art Journal’s summer issue based on my installation at the Smart Museum of Art, “i am NOT my office,” as well as two book projects. One of these is a collection of a dozen of my own published essays and another, which I am co-editing with art historian Blake Stimson of the University of Davis California, is entitled, Collectivism After Modernism, and is intended as a text book about post-war, collective art practices. Both projects are now being circulated to various publishers.

“WTO Action Collectible”
Image courtesy of Greg Sholette

For more on REPOhistory: www.repohistory.org, or see Sholette’s essay from the New Art Examiner archived at: http://www.newartexaminer.org/archive/1199_authenticity.html. For more on PAD/D, Sholette conducted an interview with Brett Bloom and Cesare Pietroiusti that can be found at: http://www.groupsandspaces. net/e_zine1.html;
http://www.indymedia.org/; http://www.lasagencias.org/