Stories from the Inside


Lobby Competition: Then & Now

To showcase the work of University of Illinois at Chicago art students and activate the entryway to the Art & Design Exhibition Hall, the Lobby Competition was born in the fall of 2013. BFA and MFA students are invited to submit a proposal to create a site-specific artwork to be exhibited for the duration of one semester. Exhibitions change with the semesters lending there to be three open calls and exhibitions per year. The guidelines are simple and include that the work is new, it must fit in the lobby without obstructing the entry, and students are invited to work collaboratively if all students are members of the UIC community. Proposals are reviewed by a group of Gallery 400 staff and Art & Art History faculty members, and the winners receive a $200 honorarium.

The call for Spring 2018 proposals is now open and closes November 13!
Visit to fill out a short application form, and email the application and images of previous works to

We turned to our archive for a brief throwback of past winners.

First Winner in Fall 2013: Timothy McMullen's Reckless Transition 


Timothy McMullen, Reckless Transition, 2013 (installation view)

Timothy McMullen
Reckless Transition, Fall 2013 

Reflecting on his experience as a student in this building, McMullen both plays with and works against elements of the structure and the transitional nature, of the foyer. The zigzag pattern in the wall painting is directly transposed from the trap that lines the interior of the elevator. A black square poses as an electrical box yet, on closer examination, reveals an illusory image that bleeds to gray, and then white. The wall to the right of the large-format painting is sanded to reveal older layers of paint underneath, while opposite is a “bulletin” where the artist will post new works (updates) throughout the semester-on site is for removal and preservation while the other is for the accumulation of ideas and forgetfulness. McMullen forces passersby to ask: Can the familiar be unfamiliar? Is vandalism preservation? Can memory cause amnesia? Am I standing in someone else’s way?


Christine Harrison Frei, You’re a pretty productive kitty, 2014, Neon print (installation view)

Christine Harrison Frei
You’re a pretty productive kitty, Summer 2014
neon print

Through her work You’re a pretty productive kitty, Christine Harrison Frei aims to endorse creativity in the building which at the same time locates gallery spaces, classrooms, and artist studios. With her neon colored sheets of 8.5 x 11” size printer paper prints, which then turns into giant images of baby animals, she strives to rupture the institutional formality of the space. The artist hinges her work on a study published by the Hiroshima University in 2012 that claimed people who looked at pictures of adorable, fuzzy, baby animals were more productive than groups shown pictures of food or adult animals. Frei uses public domain baby animal photos as inspiration for all who enter the building since she believes productivity is important in an academic setting. Frei’s work stresses the tension between productivity and the institutional setting where artistic production is limited inside the restraints of academic calendars, deadlines, and bureaucracy.


J. Tshab Her, Reclaiming Existence, Spring 2016, acrylic paint, house paint and India Ink

J. Tshab Her, Reclaiming Existence, Spring 2016
Acrylic paint, house paint and India Ink

During the Laotian Civil War in 1953 to 1975, the Hmong people–ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand–were displaced and were desperately looking for freedom in a country that was hunting them. In the late 1970s, the first Hmong family stepped foot on American soil as political refugees. “As a result,” J. Tshab Her explains, “I am here today: a first generation Hmong American.” Reclaiming Existence speaks to identity and questions the pressure that comes with belonging to a culture that is living in exile. Like a lobby that is constantly in transition, the Hmong are always adapting to new environments and creating spaces that allow growth. The installation consists of patterns referencing Hmong textiles that will slowly disappear by the end of the semester, which questions the permanence of life. Reclaiming Existence presents an example of the fragility of life, hoping to mark a place for the Hmong people and reclaim their existence.

Check out the previous blog post about Spring 2017 winner Oscar Chavez who exhibited Big Blue Suit .

Currently on view: 


Nick Van Zanten, It Had to Be There, Fall 2017, inkjet prints, acrylic on acrylic mirror

Nick Van Zanten
It Had to Be There, Fall 2017
Inkjet prints, acrylic on acrylic mirror

This project uses the practical function of the lobby as an origin point for navigation around the building as a means to investigate subject positions in relation to photography, space, and memory. The work consists of four photographs in the lobby—each with one CMYK channel removed—and four paintings rendered on mirrors and placed in the hallway on the fifth floor of this building, in front of the elevator and by the entrance to the Great Space. The secluded mirror paintings are visible in the photographs, which are in fact taken looking through them at an installation of fabric. However, when viewers seek out the site pointed to in the photographs, they discover only ghostly echoes—a space not immediately recognizable, yet hauntingly familiar. Regarding this work, the artist has stated: “Schools are spaces of memory, particularly for students, who spend a brief but significant time in them. When we revisit these spaces, we experience the memory again, yet in so doing we change it slightly. These pieces... being performative, fugitive, and site-specific, [can] act as a machine for creating such feelings of remembrance, even though the memories [will] be false.”

Nick Van Zanten is a MFA student in the School of Art & Art History.

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