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Evanston’s jewel of an art museum, which had been closed for 18 months during the pandemic, reopened Sept. 22 for the new season. More than 80 modern and contemporary artworks have been recently acquired by The Block. They are featured in the opening exhibition, “Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection,” on view until Dec. 5.
The title of the exhibition, The Block’s 40th annual, comes from a work in the collection by conceptual artist Louise Lawler encouraging critical thinking about the representation of events. As the website asks, “How can art help us reflect upon, question, rewrite, or reimagine the past? Who has been represented in visual art, how, and by whom? How is history etched onto a landscape or erased from it? How do museums and dominant canons of art history shape our view of history and of the past?”
Essi Rönkkö, Associate Curator of Collections at The Block, and co-curator of the current exhibition, has been with the museum since 2016. Her work has focused on connecting collections to Northwestern’s academic curricula. “Students are deeply involved with The Block. They can curate exhibits, act as guides, participate in strategic planning, as they have in this case – encouraging the acquisition of specific new works. The Block is a teaching and study resource, encouraging critical thinking.”
She is particularly proud of the works chosen for purchase by the students. Last year’s student acquisition artwork was the culmination of an undergraduate course, “Collecting/Critique: Art Museums and Thinking About History.” This year’s choice, “Quarantine Blues” by Leonard Suryajava, was made by the Block Student Advisory Board. Both works are part of this exhibition.
Five weeks of weekly sessions were conducted to select the final candidate. The Advisory Board began with six candidates preselected by the curatorial staff, with the students doing rigorous research on each. From these, three finalists were selected, live interviews with each followed, then, a vote – first on the artist, then, on the specific artwork. As with all Block acquisitions, their selection required a formal justification document and presentation to be accepted.
Northwestern offers a graduate program in Art History, as well as an MFA in Art, Theory and Practice. The Block works closely with students and colleagues in these departments.
“One of the most exciting things about The Block is the interdisciplinarity of our work,” said Lindsay Bosch, senior manager of marketing & communications. “We are privileged to work with faculty, undergrads and graduate fellows from across fields of study.”
“We are trying something different with the museum ‘voice’ in this exhibit,” said Rönkkö.
Students, alumni, faculty and staff were invited to write labels for the artworks, bringing new voices, new perspectives to the museum. “In other words,” Rönkkö queried, “Who is the expert? Who has the power? Whose story gets told?”
Named after donors Mary and Leigh Block, this 1980 addition to Northwestern University’s Evanston campus opened as The Block Gallery. In 2000 a second floor was added and the institution was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums as The Block Museum of Art. The collection of 6,000 works began with works on paper (drawings, prints and photographs) but has expanded to include other mediums, such as sculpture, paintings and time-based media.
Media art is a staple of The Block’s exhibition program. Their quarterly screening series “Block Cinema” is free and open to all, a quality venue for film, highlighting the diversity of voices and practices in the media arts field (film, video, radio). Post-screening discussions are held with audience participation welcomed.
The Block is located at 40 Arts Circle Dr. on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Pedestrians or vehicles can enter the campus from the curve where Sheridan Road turns east/west as it meets the northern end of Chicago Avenue and Hinman.
Parking is in either the two-level parking lot or the multi-story parking edifice immediately accessible upon entering the South Campus Parking Garage. Walk northwest along Campus Drive until you reach Arts Circle Drive.
Turn and walk east along Arts Circle Drive to the roundabout. The entrance to the Block will be on your left, across from Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Parking is free after 4 p.m. and all day on weekends.
Phone: 847-491-4000 Website: blockmuseum.northwestern.edu
Hours: Wed. 12PM – 8PM, Thurs.- Sun. 12PM – 5PM, Closed Mon. & Tues.