Skip to main content

Dripping or flinging paint across a canvas; letting the progressive decay of organic materials determine a composition; flipping coins to compose musical scores—these are some of the processes used to incorporate chance as a decisive factor in the creation of an artwork. Beginning in the early twentieth century and moving into the 1970s, Chance Aesthetics addresses chance as a key compositional principle in modern art. The exhibition features more than sixty artworks by over forty avant-garde artists from Europe and the United States, including work by Jean Arp, George Brecht, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Ellsworth Kelly, Alison Knowles, François Morellet, Robert Morris, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Dieter Roth, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Yves Tanguy, among many others.

The central paradox resting at the heart of the exhibition involves the tension between chance and choice. Though many artists throughout the twentieth century have championed the creative possibilities of the arbitrary in the creation of works of art—both as an attack on reason and logic and as a counterpoint to officially sanctioned aesthetic tastes—artistic subjectivity is never truly effaced. Undertaken as a stimulus to new forms of artistic invention, the deliberate implementation of chance advanced a challenge to longstanding assumptions concerning what might constitute a work of art and the role of the artist as autonomous creator.

Chance Aesthetics explores these concepts in three thematic sections: "Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object," "Automatism," and "Games and Systems of Random Ordering." Each section addresses central avant-garde strategies employed to subvert or rework traditional forms of artistic expression. These categories also provide a basic framework through which individual movements—Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Nouveau Réalisme, Fluxus, and others—are traversed in order to compare and contrast chance-based strategies and objectives across diverse historical and cultural contexts.

Chance Aesthetics is curated by Meredith Malone.

Read the Press Release

The Museum's Education department connects special exhibitions with students of all levels through specialized tours, curriculum plans, hands-on activities, and more. Download the Connections Guide for the exhibition for more details.


Selected works


Support for Chance Aesthetics was provided by James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Dedalus Foundation, Inc.; John and Anabeth Weil; the University Lane Foundation; the Regional Arts Commission; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.