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Mary Jane Jacob

Mary Jane Jacob

American art curator
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American art curator
Gender female
Education University of Michigan
The details

Mary Jane Jacob is an American curator, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois. She is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is the Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies. She has held posts as Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Since 1990 Jacob has been a pioneer in the areas of public, site-specific, and socially engaged art. Jacob is the author and editor of many key texts including Conversations at the Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art (1996) and Culture in Action: New Public Art in Chicago (1993). Jacob has mounted exhibitions, and created public art opportunities that have featured the work of some of the most influential artists in contemporary art including Mark Dion, Suzanne Lacy, Ernesto Pujol, J. Morgan Puett, Pablo Helguera, Marina Abramovic, Rick Lowe, and Alfredo Jaar. The Women's Caucus for Art honored Jacob as a 2010 recipient of the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. Jacob received her M.A. in the History of Art and Museum Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Curatorial approach

Mary Jane Jacob has an approach to curation that focuses heavily on site, history, social context, and audience relationships. These approaches are most evident in her influential project Culture in Action: Public Art in Chicago.

In September 2014, Jacob opened the exhibition A Lived Practice, co-curated with Kate Zeller, and launched a four-volume series ob Chicago Social Practice History distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

Exhibitions and projects

In 1991 and again in 2000–2008 Jacob was the curator of visual arts projects for Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston South Carolina. This was the site of Places With a Past (1991) and the 2005 Places With a Future.

In 1996 Jacob was the curator of Conversations at the Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art as part of the Arts Festival of Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics.

Books and publications

Jacob has written and edited over three dozen books and exhibition publications. Her most recent books include The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and Learning Mind: Experience into Art (University of California Press, 2010).


Jacob is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Sculpture. Jacob is the executive director of exhibitions and exhibition studies.

Museum affiliations

Jacob served as the chief curator at the Museums of Contemporary Art in Chicago from 1980 to 1986. She also served as the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles from 1986 to 1989.

From 1976 to 1980 she was the associate curator of modern art at the Detroit Art Institute.

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