Exhibit Columbus reveals 2020–2021 curatorial theme and Miller Prize recipients

The Middle of Everywhere

Exhibit Columbus reveals 2020–2021 curatorial theme and Miller Prize recipients

Frida Escobedo’s Miller Prize-winning installation at the I.M. Pei-designed Library Plaza during the 2019 Exhibit Columbus exhibition. (Hadley Fruits/Courtesy Exhibit Columbus)

As hinted at by Exhibit Columbus 2020-2021 co-curator Mimi Zeiger to AN in June, the just-announced curatorial theme for the “exploration of architecture, art, design, and community” held in Columbus, Indiana, responds to both the size and geographic positioning of modernist architecture-rich Columbus itself: New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of The Middle City?

“We see the social agency of architecture so well illustrated in Columbus,” said Zeiger, a Los Angeles-based independent critic and curator who was revealed earlier this summer as an Exhibit Columbus co-curator alongside Iker Gil, founding director of Chicago architecture and urban design firm MAS Studio. “Columbus can be a bit archetypal, and what’s happening there is also happening in places across the Midwest and across the country in small and medium towns and cities.”

A press statement released this morning with the news elaborates on the provocative theme, one that summons exhibition participants and, eventually, the public to contemplate what the future holds for civic life in the ever-shifting geographic center of America as its residents collectively confront a multitude of challenges both new and familiar: Climate change, racial injustice, mobility, health access, and on.

New Middles speculates on the heartland, an ecology stretching beyond political borders—from North to South—from the Canadian Border to the Gulf, and from East to West—from Appalachia to the plains. Embracing a long timeline of cities past, present, and future, New Middles builds upon Columbus’ legacy as a laboratory for design as civic investment. In a moment when we most need reflection, creativity, and innovation to envision new ways of being, New Middles considers Columbus a place to destabilize assumptions, and imagine new architectures and landscapes as a way to positively move our cities forward.”

Exhibit Columbus 2020-2021 is the third cycle of the nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation’s keystone program and, as mentioned, is the first to enlist co-curators to develop and implement a curatorial theme.

“Bringing in new voices to think about this from a curatorial perspective—and to take this program that we’ve built collectively and to add that other layer of critical thought and research—seemed like a great direction for us to go,” Exhibit Columbus director Anne Surak told AN when asked about the co-curators in a previous interview.

exhibit columbus 2020-2021
(Courtesy Exhibit Columbus)

Along with the curatorial theme, Exhibit Columbus has also revealed the five recipients of the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize, all of which, at the invitation of Zeiger and Gil, will conceive site-responsive outdoor installations (the sites in question being the city’s world-famous treasure trove of architectural landmarks) during the exhibition portion of Exhibit Columbus, which is slated to kick off in the fall of 2021. Awardees of the University Design Research Fellowship and a local High School Design Team will also create installations.

The 2020-2021 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize recipients are: Dream the Combine (Minneapolis), ecosistema urbano (Miami and Madrid), Future Firm (Chicago), Olalekan Jeyifous (Brooklyn), and Sam Jacob Studio (London).

“These five Miller Prize winners represent the future of architecture and design,” said Surak in a statement. “They bring to Columbus a deep understanding of the ways architecture and design, at a variety of scales, shape our cities and inform the ways we relate to each other. With this award they will have the opportunity to bring their unique perspectives to Columbus, while exploring the customs and values that have created this city’s international design legacy.”

The Miller Prize recipients will also participate in the upcoming Exhibit Columbus 2020 symposium, which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be held in a virtual-only format from mid-September through mid-November. Ideally, the recipients will present the design conceptions for their respective installations in-person at some point during the spring of 2021 before building begins for the exhibition later in the year. L.A.-based graphic designer, artist, and musician Jeremiah Chiu of Some All None has been tapped to create an environmental design and wayfinding system for the exhibition.

north christian church, columbus
Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church (1955) in Columbus. (Carol M. Highsmith Archive/Public Domain)

As for the seven University Design Research Fellowships, those have been awarded to professors in architecture, landscape architecture, and design whose installations will reflect their own respective academic research. According to Exhibit Columbus, the fellows were “selected for their ability to tackle specific sets of issues germane to the future of the city and the Mississippi Watershed region, such as sustainability and material reuse, nonhuman habitat, watershed ecologies, emergent technologies, and migration.”

The fellows are: Ang Li Projects (Northeastern University), Joyce Hwang (University at Buffalo), Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller (AGENCY/ Texas Tech College of Architecture, El Paso), Lola Sheppard and Mason White (Lateral Office/ University of Waterloo and University of Toronto), Derek Hoeferlin (Washington University in St. Louis), Natalie Yates (Ball State University), and Jei Jeeyea Kim (Indiana University).

New to the 2020-2021 edition of Exhibit Columbus are two Photography Fellows, Virginia Hanusik of New Orleans and David Schalliol of Minneapolis, who will present their work—documenting Columbus, the American heartland, and beyond—during the 2021 exhibition.

Further details on programming for Exhibit Columbus 2020-2021 will be released in the coming weeks as the symposium draws nearer.