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Block Museum Addresses Weight of History

Powerful film installation, exhibitions of recent German Art presented this fall

EVANSTON, Ill. --- An installation by internationally renowned artist Shimon Attie and exhibitions exploring modern and contemporary German art at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this fall grapple with issues of identity and memory in the face of social and historical change.

“Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door,” “De-Natured: German Art from Joseph Beuys to Martin Kippenberger, Selections from the James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach Collection” and “Joseph Beuys: Sand Drawings” are on display Sept. 21 to Dec. 9, at the Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive in Evanston.


For two decades, Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957) has created immersive multimedia art --from photographs and video installations in museums and galleries to site-specific works in public places -- that reflect on the relationship between place, memory and identity. Attie has described some of his artwork, in part, as “a kind of peeling back of the wallpaper of today to reveal the histories buried underneath.” In “Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door,” the artist has re-envisioned a work which featured archival film footage taken clandestinely by people forced into seclusion by the Nazis. In 1995 Attie projected the films onto the sidewalks of Amsterdam from apartments where many individuals actually hid during World War II. In 2012 visitors to the Block Museum will view the films in a gallery installation that evokes the experience of watching from a confined space. “Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door” is co-curated by David Tolchinsky and Debra Tolchinsky, faculty members of the department of radio/ television/film. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Alsdorf Endowment, Rubens Family Foundation and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.


“De-Natured” presents the work of 10 well-known German artists active from the 1960s to today. While diverse and varied, the work of these artists has been informed by a fracturing and questioning of authenticity and representation provoked by 20th-century German history. Using unconventional materials, Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) addressed profound questions of creativity, social change and personal action. Pioneering conceptual artist Hanne Darboven (1941–2009) utilized numerical systems to convey the passage of time. Gerhard Richter’s (b. 1932) works in oil, photography, print media and drawing investigate what lies beneath the visible surface of a work of art. Sigmar Polke (1941–2010) appropriated images from advertisements to address the superficiality of consumer culture. Self-referential drawings on hotel stationery by Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997) introduced an anarchic expressivity, evocatively combining the public and the personal. Other artists in “De-Natured” include Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (b. 1934), Thomas Ruff (b. 1958), Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) and Thomas Struth (b. 1954). The exhibition is organized and circulated by the Ackland Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with funding provided by the William Hayes Ackland Trust. Support for its presentation at the Block Museum is provided by the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Evanston Arts Council and Illinois Art Council, a state agency.


Beuys professed that art should be a way of life. In 1974, the artist and photographer Charles Wilp traveled to a Kenyan beach where Wilp documented Beuys creating his distinctive motifs in the sand. Featuring the entire portfolio assembled from Wilp’s photographs, this exhibition provides poetic insight into Beuys’s spiritual and aesthetic connection to nature.

The portfolio “Sandzeichnungen” is displayed courtesy of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library. Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Endowment, Evanston Arts Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.


The Block Museum has organized special events to complement these exhibitions, including a talk by Shimon Attie, a program exploring American poet Audre Lorde’s experience in West Germany and discussions with two prominent art historians about the work of Gerhard Richter. The programs are free and open to the public.

Audre Lorde's Cultural Legacy

A book reading and two nights of film screenings at Block Cinema examine the influence of African American poet, author and activist Audre Lorde, who was inspirational to the Afro-German community and feminist movement in West Berlin in the 1980s. The events include:

• “Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany,” 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3. Audre Lorde Literary Award winner Ika Hugel-Marshall, who was also a friend of Lorde, will present her autobiography at a bilingual (German and English) reading. A reception follows.

“Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992,” 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3. Dagmar Schultz presents the Midwest premiere of her documentary film exploring Lorde’s impact on the German political and cultural scene during a decade of profound social change. A short film produced by Schultz about the German-Ghanaian poet May Ayim, “Hope in My Heart,” will be shown first. Michelle Wright, associate professor of African American studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will introduce the filmmaker.

“A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde” and “The Edge of Each Other's Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde,” 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4. These two films explore Lorde’s life and her broader legacy. D. Soyini Madison, professor of anthropology and African studies, Weinberg College, and chair of the School of Communication’s department of performance studies, will introduce the screenings.

“Audre Lorde’s Cultural Legacy” is sponsored by Northwestern’s departments of African American studies, English, German and history, the comparative literary studies, American studies and the Latino and Latina studies programs, the poetry and poetics colloquium, The Graduate School, the School of Communication, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. Support is also provided by the Goethe-Institut Chicago.


• “Sites Unseen,” 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11. During the 1990s the artist Shimon Attie presented a series of temporary installations, including “The Neighbor Next Door,” in public spaces of European cities that addressed legacies of the Holocaust. Attie will discuss these projects as well as more recent work examining Arab/Israeli relations. This program is sponsored by the departments of radio/television/film, art theory and practice, art history and German, the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies, Fiedler Hillel, and Myers Foundations.

• “Realism and Abstraction in Gerhard Richter’s Work: The Social History of Postwar German Art,” 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7. In individual presentations, Paul Jaskot, professor of the history of art and architecture at DePaul University, and Christine Mehring, associate professor of art history at the University of Chicago, will address Richter’s shifting stylistic choices and their relationship to social and political developments in Germany. This program is sponsored by the departments of art history and German.


“Gerhard Richter Painting,” 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, Block Cinema. Director Corinna Belz’s portrait of the artist is an eye-opening document of his creative process. Admission is free.

“The Photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher,” 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, Block Cinema. Director Marianne Kapfer’s 2010 documentary explores the Bechers’ roles as artists, their relationship to each other and their influence on younger generations. Supported by the Goethe-Institut Chicago. Admission is free.


Block Museum docents lead guided tours of the fall exhibitions at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 29 to Dec. 9. Tours for classes and groups of eight or more people are available with advance notice. Call (847) 491-4852, email, or visit for more information.


Admission to the Block Museum galleries and programs listed above is free. The galleries are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The museum is closed on Monday. For more information, visit or call (847) 491-4000.

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