Northwestern’s Block Museum reopens with new exhibit


Part of the Block Museum during Covid. (Photo courtesy of Gay Riseborough)

Evanston’s gem of an art museum, which had been closed for 18 months during the pandemic, reopened on September 22 for the new season. More than 80 modern and contemporary works of art have recently been acquired by The Block. They are presented in the opening exhibition, “Who says, who shows, what matters: thinking about history with The Block collection”, on view until December 5.

The title of the exhibition, The Block’s 40th annual, comes from a work from the collection of conceptual artist Louise Lawler encouraging critical reflection on the representation of events. As the website asks, “How can art help us reflect on, question, rewrite or reimagine the past?” Who has been represented in the visual arts, how and by whom? How does history fit into a landscape or does it disappear from it? How do the museums and the dominant canons of art history shape our view of history and the past? “

Works by artist Tonika Lewis Johnson – 6329 S. Paulina and 6330 N. Paulina from 2017. (Photos courtesy of Gay Riseborough)

Essi Rönkkö, associate curator of collections at The Block and co-curator of the current exhibition, has worked with the museum since 2016. Her work has focused on connecting the collections to Northwestern’s academic programs. “Students are deeply involved in The Block. They can organize exhibitions, act as guides, participate in strategic planning, as they did in this case – encouraging the acquisition of new specific 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. The artwork acquired by students last year was the culmination of an undergraduate course, “Collecting / Criticizing: Art Museums and Reflecting on History”. This year’s pick, “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 shortlisted by curatorial staff, with students doing rigorous research on each. Of these, three finalists were selected, live interviews with each followed, then a vote – first on the artist, then on the specific work of art. As with all Block acquisitions, their selection required a formal justification and presentation document to be accepted.

Northwestern offers a graduate program in Art History, as well as an MFA in Art, Theory and Practice. The Block works in close collaboration with students and colleagues from these departments.

“One of the most exciting things about The Block is the interdisciplinarity of our work,” said Lindsay Bosch, senior director of marketing and communications. “We are privileged to work with faculty, undergraduates and graduate scholars from all fields of study.”

“We are trying something different with the ‘voice’ of the museum in this exhibit,” said Rönkkö.

Students, alumni, faculty and staff have been asked to write labels for works of art, bringing new voices, new perspectives to the museum. “In other words,” Rönkkö asked, “Who is the expert? Who has the power? Who is the story told from? “

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, painting and time media.

Media art is an essential part of The Block’s exhibition program. Their quarterly series of “Block Cinema” screenings is free and open to all, a quality venue for cinema, highlighting the diversity of voices and practices in the field of media arts (film, video, radio). Post-screening discussions are organized and audience participation is welcome.

The block is located at 40 Arts Circle Dr. on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Pedestrians or vehicles can enter campus from the curve where Sheridan Road turns east / west as it meets the north end of Chicago Avenue and Hinman.

Parking is either in the two-level parking lot or in the multi-level parking building immediately accessible by entering the parking garage on the south campus. Walk northwest on Campus Drive to Arts Circle Drive.

Turn and walk east on Arts Circle Drive to the roundabout. The entrance to the block will be on your left, in front of the Pick-Staiger concert hall. Parking is free after 4 p.m. and all day on weekends.

Phone: 847-491-4000 Website:

Hours: Wed 12pm – 8pm, Thursday-Sun. 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., closed Mon & You are.

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