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The art side of history: Block Museum looks to the past in one of fall’s key exhibits

Other shows will be contemplating guns, Paris and the 1871 Chicago fire.

Fred Wilson, “Untitled (Venice Biennale),” 2003, Chromogenic print. The work is among those featured in “Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts” at the Block Museum of Art.
Fred Wilson, “Untitled (Venice Biennale),” 2003, Chromogenic print. The work is among those featured in “Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with the Block’s Collection” at the Block Museum of Art.
© Fred Wilson. Image courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery

In trying to decide what to call the current exhibition at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art, the curators realized that the title of a 1990 work by conceptual artist Louis Lawler nicely fit the bill: “Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts.”

“We kind of glommed on to that, because that summed up a lot of the things that we were thinking about,” said Essi Rönkkö, the museum’s associate curator of collections.

The show’s concept, which derives in part from “Thinking About History,” a book by Sara Maza, a Northwestern professor of history, is pretty straightforward: art history is never static or monolithic. It changes depending on who is telling the story, which artists are being shown and what seems important at that moment.

According to Rönkkö, the theme is broad enough to encompass works by a wide range of artists, such as Dawoud Bey, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, Edward Steichen and Kara Walker, but specific enough to provide a “backbone” for the exhibition.

The show, which is subtitled “Thinking about History with the Block’s Collection,” is the culmination of the museum’s 40th-anniversary celebration. “It was going to be 2020,” Rönkkö said, “because we technically turned 40 in 2020, but for obvious reasons, it got postponed by a full year.”

It is also the culmination of a collecting initiative that began in 2018 with the help of the museum’s Board of Advisors, which provided the bulk of the funding. Like the show, the acquisitions were centered on artists who were thinking critically about the past and was meant to expand the scope of the museum’s holdings and diversify the perspectives it presents.

In all, 85 works will be on view through Dec. 5, filling virtually nearly the entirety of the two-story museum at 40 Arts Circle in Evanston. Visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

Here is an overview of 10 other art and museum exhibitions worth checking out this fall:

Installation view, Kara Walker: “Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored,” at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 2021. Photo by Martin Giese, DuSable Museum of African American History
Installation view, Kara Walker: “Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored.”
Photo by Martin Giese, DuSable Museum of African American History

Through Oct. 16: “Kara Walker: Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored,” Du Sable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place; dusablemuseum.org. This installation, which debuted at the Renaissance Society in 1997 and is now in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is a milestone example of Walker’s searing gaze at the brutal reality of slavery using black-paper cut-outs.

“Girl With Balloon” is among the 80 works by the mysterious English street artist known as Banksy, in the hugely anticipated exhibit “The Art of Banksy,” opening Saturday at 360 N. State. The original works are from private collections and rarely or never before seen by the public. The exhibit runs through Oct. 31. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
“Girl With Balloon” is among the 80 works by the mysterious English street artist known as Banksy, in “The Art of Banksy.”
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Through Oct. 31: “The Art of Banksy,” 360 N. State; banskyexhibit.com. Banksy is the pseudonym of a controversial and attention-grabbing British-based street artist, filmmaker and art-world provocateur whose identity remains unknown. This show, which was organized by Starvox Exhibits without the artist’s permission or involvement, features more than 80 works drawn from private collections worldwide.

Rick Ortega, Espíritu de Cihuateteo, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist
Rick Ortega, “Espíritu de Cihuateteo,” 2018, oil on canvas, is featured in “Día de Muertos - A Time to Grieve & Remember,” at the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Courtesy of the artist

Through Dec. 12: “Día de Muertos — A Time to Grieve & Remember,” National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th; nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org. This annual Day of the Dead show is always a viewer favorite, but this year’s 35th edition deserves special note. It pays tribute to the thousands of people in Mexico and the United States who have died from COVID-19, and includes work by two MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winners: Sandra Cisneros and Amalia Mesa-Bains.

Barbara Kruger, “Untitled (Truth),” 2013. Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb. Digital image courtesy of the artist.
Barbara Kruger, “Untitled (Truth),” 2013. Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb.
Digital image courtesy of the artist

Through Jan. 24, 2022: “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU,” Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan; artic.edu. Barbara Kruger has been an important part of the contemporary art world for more than 40 years, using text and imagery to create media-savvy works with a socio-political bite. Selections in this large-scale retrospective will be spread across the museum, with other works featured on billboards and elsewhere in the city.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled (Death by Gun),” 1990 is featured in “American Epidemic: Guns in the United States,” and exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Death by Gun)” (1990) is featured in “American Epidemic: Guns in the United States,” an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago.
Courtesy of the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art New York

Through Feb. 20, 2022: “American Epidemic: Guns in the United States,” Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago, 600 S. Michigan; mocp.org. The nine featured artists, including Carolyn Drake, Andres Gonzalez and Kambui Olujimi, explore a range of cultural, economic and racial issues surrounding the surging number of guns in the United States.

André Kertész, “Chez Mondrian,” 1926. The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, gift of Jean and Julien Levy.
André Kertész, “Chez Mondrian,” 1926. The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, gift of Jean and Julien Levy.
© Estate of André Kertész 2021

Through Jan. 17, 2022: “André Kertész: Postcards from Paris,” Art Institute of Chicago; artic.edu. Kertész is recognized today as one of the great photographers of the 20th century, but when he arrived in Paris in 1925, such fame was still in the future. This show is the first to bring together his rare prints on carte postale or postcard paper during his early experimental years in the City of Light.

Oct. 8, 2021, through 2024: “City on Fire: Chicago 1871,” Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark; chicago1871.org. No event looms larger in Chicago history than the infamous 1871 fire, which destroyed hundreds of structures and left more than 100,000 people homeless. This semi-permanent exhibit marks the 150th anniversary of the massive conflagration with more than 100 artifacts from the museum’s collection as well as a reproduction of a large-scale cyclorama.

Lithograph depicting the burning of the Tremont House on Dearborn Street during the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Lithograph depicting the burning of the Tremont House on Dearborn Street during the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Chicago History Museum

Oct. 16, 2021 - Jan. 31, 2022: “Tony Fitzpatrick: Jesus of Western Avenue,” Cleve Carney Museum of Art, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn; theccma.org. Fitzpatrick has gained national fame for his whimsical yet often pointed works with frequent references to his beloved Chicago. Sixty of his mixed-media works will be showcased in what is billed as his final museum exhibition.

Oct. 22, 2021 - Jan. 8, 2023: “Wild Color,” Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore; fieldmuseum.org. Each room of this exhibit is devoted to a different color in the natural world, with looks at such offerings as iridescent minerals and hues of animals that glow in ultraviolet light. According to museum press materials, the show will include “vibrant visuals, large-scale media projections and soundscapes to create multi-sensory atmospheres.”

Andrea Bowers, “Radical Feminist Pirate Ship Tree-Sitting Platform” Recycled wood, rope, carabineers, misc. equipment, and supplies.
Andrea Bowers, “Radical Feminist Pirate Ship Tree-Sitting Platform.” Recycled wood, rope, carabineers, misc. equipment and supplies.
Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery New York

Nov. 20, 2021 - March 27, 2022: Andrea Bowers, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago; mcachicago.org. This retrospective, co-organized by the MCA Chicago and Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, is the first to survey more than 20 years of Bowers’ work. This activist, Los Angeles-based artist confronts a range of contemporary issues, such as immigration and transgender rights, through her installations, drawings and videos.

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.