Gallery Transforms Into Courtroom for Witness Lab at the University of Michigan Museum of Art

Installation and performance series from artist Courtney McClellan looks to study the relationship between spectacle and the law

On February 15, the University of Michigan Museum of Art will open Witness Lab, a courtroom installation and performance series created by artist Courtney McClellan.

Witness Lab collapses courtroom, theater, classroom, laboratory, and artist studio into one experience — all inside UMMA’s Stenn Gallery — inviting visitors to consider the relationship between performance and law.

Co-presented with the Roman J. Witt Artist Residency Program of the Stamps School of Art & Design, Witness Lab is McClellan’s participatory investigation into the concept of witnessing as a social and artistic act. Through the use of performances, mock court proceedings, and trial advocacy workshops, McClellan tasks visitors with documenting their observations of the proceedings, playing the role of courtroom sketch artist and court reporter.

“Witness Lab is a dynamic experiment for UMMA,” said Christina Olsen, UMMA Director. “It’s simultaneously an installation and a performance space and an artist's studio, but more than that, it’s a project that will deeply engage our community and complicate our collective understanding of justice and art.”

A Roman J. Witt Artist-in-Residence at the University of Michigan, McClellan’s Witness Lab is part of the artist’s ongoing research into who performs the role of witness in our society, how that understanding compares with the narrower legal definition of the role, and how courts use performance to establish truths and mold perception. 

“Witnessing is an act of keen observation, but it’s also an act of retelling,” McClellan says. “It’s inherently subjective. In 2020, I want people to consider the complex truths found through shared storytelling.”

The public is invited to participate in the exhibition and witness a large slate of public performances, including:

  • The Salem Witch Trials with Professor Len Niehoff’s U-M Law Seminar — March 11 and March 18 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Romeo vs. the City of Verona performed by Katie McBride’s Greenhills Middle School Drama Class — March 13 from 1:30-3:00 p.m.
  • Supreme Court 101 with Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack — March 24 and April 7 at 5:00 p.m. - Registration Required
  • Performance in Trial Advocacy with Judge Timothy Connors and Margaret Connors — March 25 and April 1 from 5:00-8:00 p.m.

View full list of upcoming events.

All events are open to the public. Seating in the gallery is limited. Some events require registration.

McClellan, an artist and writer from Greensboro, North Carolina, is the 2019-2020 Roman J. Witt Artist-in-Residence at the University of Michigan. She has a keen interest in the complex, subjective truths about the act of witnessing that exist within a courtroom context — and beyond. She earned her MFA from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She serves as visiting assistant professor of art in the sculpture area at the University of Georgia and is a Working Artist Project Fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.

The Roman J. Witt Residency Program, developed with the support of alumna Penny W. Stamps and named in honor of her father, is an annual international competition that awards one residency per academic year to a visiting artist/designer who proposes to develop a new work in collaboration with students and faculty. The residency provides an opportunity for the community to witness and take part in the artist's creative process, and is expected to culminate in the realization of the proposed work, as well as a presentation that summarizes the process and work accomplished.

Witness Lab Advertisement


Witness Lab is presented in partnership with the Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence Program of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, with lead support provided by the University of Michigan Law School and Office of the Provost.

About UMMA:

One of the oldest and finest university art institutions in the country, the University of Michigan Museum of Art presents a dynamic schedule of special exhibitions and interpretative programs designed to connect visitors with the rich artistic legacy of the past and today’s creative practitioners. The Museum welcomes more than 250,000 visitors each year.

The Museum is always free. 525 South State St. Ann Arbor, MI

About Stamps School of Art & Design:

Fueled by the scholarship, research, and resources of a tier-one research university, the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan provides a unique approach to transdisciplinary, inquiry-led creative practice. Our graduate and undergraduate students enjoy a supportive, curiosity-filled culture of makers and scholars seeking to activate their creative practice as an engine for cultural change and innovation. The school offers undergraduate degrees in art and design and two graduate level degrees: an MFA in Art and an MDes in Integrative Design. More: stamps.umich.edu