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Northwestern Visual Arts and Films in April

Block Museum, Dittmar Gallery and University Library events open to public

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A talk by a visiting Berlin-based South African artist, an exhibition about American radical art from 1929 to 1940, and the final days of the “Steichen|Warhol: Picturing Fame” exhibit at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art are among Northwestern University’s April visual arts events.

The Block’s newest exhibit, “In the Mind of the Beholder: An Experiment in Perception” in the museum’s Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery, runs through May 4.

Block Cinema also will host a series of films from Morocco directed by Moumen Smihi from April 10 to 18 and screen two 1930s-era Hollywood films on April 24 and 25.

Northwestern’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences department of art theory and practice, and the University Library are also offering other arts events. 


A long-term construction project on Northwestern’s south campus has limited access to the Block Museum and Arts Circle Drive. Free parking is available in the lot directly south of the museum. For directions and parking information, visit the Block Museum of Art.

The following Evanston campus programs are free and open to the public:


Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is located at 40 Arts Circle Drive, on the Evanston campus. Admission to the Block Museum programs listed below is free, unless noted. The museum is closed on Monday. For more, visit the Block Museum of Art or call (847) 491-4000.                                                       


“The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” in the Block Museum’s Main Gallery, through June 22, 2014, explores the work and philosophy of visual artists in the John Reed Club (JRC), who joined forces to form a “left front” with writers and intellectuals dedicated to making socially-conscious art. Artists who belonged to or exhibited with the JRC include Rockwell Kent, William Gropper, Stuart Davis and Morris Topchevsky, who embraced the motto “art as a social weapon.” “The Left Front” is the first exhibition to examine the artistic legacy of the JRC and its successor organization, the American Artists’ Congress (AAC). The exhibition considers Chicago’s industrial legacy, ethnic neighborhoods, historical associations with anarchism and labor unrest, and commitment to social reform through institutions like Hull House. For more information, visit the Block Museum of Art.

“Steichen|Warhol: Picturing Fame,” in the Block Museum’s Alsdorf Gallery, through April 6. Organized by the Block Museum, this is the first exhibition to compare the work of Steichen and Warhol side by side. It examines the photographic legacies of Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987) two artists who shaped the visions and imaginations of generations of Americans through their iconic images of celebrities, fashion and popular culture. In the 1920s and 1930s, Steichen’s portraits of actors, writers, musicians, politicians, models and socialites for Vanity Fair and Vogue elevated his subjects (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eugene O’Neill, Ethel and John Barrymore, and others) to iconic status. Fifty years later, Warhol borrowed and subverted that language of celebrity in photographs of his friends and patrons. “SteichenǀWarhol” is drawn primarily from the Block’s collection and highlights two major gifts to the museum -- 49 vintage Steichen prints donated by Richard and Jackie Hollander in honor of Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and his wife, Mimi Schapiro, and more than 150 Warhol photographs from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. For more information, visit the Block Museum of Art.

“In the Mind of the Beholder: An Experiment in Perception” in the Block Museum’s Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery, through May 4. Curated by Aleksandra Sherman, a Northwestern doctoral candidate in the department of psychology, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, this experimental exhibition explores how the subjective experience of viewing may be “in the eye of the beholder.” The exhibit combines art with sound to emphasize the role of the environment and mood in shaping the perception of art. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests the importance of context -- both environmental and subjective -- in shaping our visual experience. To emphasize the importance of context in art perception, visitors will hear an emotionally powerful soundtrack as they view Alan Cohen’s photographs taken at memorial sites. Visitors will be encouraged to reflect on and log their personal experience as part of the exhibition. To view one of the exhibition’s images, visit the Block Museum of Art.


Free guided weekend tours of the Block Museum’s exhibitions will be held at 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from April 5 through June 22. Tours for classes and groups of eight or more are also available with advance notice. To arrange a group tour, email, or click here for more information.


The following events are free and open to the public. 

Curator’s Gallery Talk, Steichen’s Style: Innovations in Photography, 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2. Elliot Reichert, the Block Museum’s curator of special projects, and Michal Raz-Russo, assistant curator in the department of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, will discuss Edward Steichen’s photography innovations. Admission is free.

Gallery Performance, Jackalope Theatre, Living Newspaper, Edition 2014, 6 p.m. Thursday, April 3, and 5 p.m. Friday, April 5. AJ Ware, artistic director of Jackalope Theatre Company in Chicago, will direct students in short plays based on current newspaper headlines reflecting themes of the Block Museum’s “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,” 1929-1940” exhibition. Reservations are required for the hourlong program. For tickets, visit the Block Muesum of Art. 

Art Theory and Practice Visiting Artist Talk, Denise Markonish, “A Spaceship, Wonder and Lots of Canadians: Curating at MASS MoCA,” 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, Block Museum, Pick-Laudati Auditorium. Markonish, curator at MASS MoCA, will discuss her work and curatorial projects. For more information, visit, "A Spaceship, Wonder and Lots of Canadians: Curating at MASS MoCA."

Visiting Artist Talk, Candice Breitz, “From A to B and Back Again,” 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12. Breitz is a Berlin-based South African artist whose video installations address stereotypes and visual conventions in film and popular culture. Her talk coincides with the Block’s “Steichen|Warhol: Picturing Fame” exhibition, which closes April 6. The program is hosted in partnership with the Block Museum and Northwestern’s departments of radio/television/film, art theory and practice and art history.

Guest lecture, Andrew Hemingway, “Style of the New Era,” 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 16. An emeritus professor in art history at University College in London, Hemingway is a preeminent scholar on American artists and the communist movement. Hemingway will speak on the culture of the John Reed Club and proletariat art.

Warnock Lecture, Kerry James Marshall, “The Image is Everything,” 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 30.  Join Northwestern’s department of art history for a lecture by renowned Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall. Recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award, Marshall’s work reflects his upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, and early exposure to the Black Power and Civil Rights movements in Los Angeles. 


Block Cinema will host Moroccan Chronicles: The Films of Moumen Smihi. A foundational figure of the “New Arab Cinema” movement that began in the 1970s, Smihi is one of the most important Arab filmmakers working today. Born in Tangier, Morocco, in 1945, Smihi’s exceptional films are as fearless in their politics as they are quietly radical in form. With recent screenings at Cannes, Marrakech, and other international festivals and cinematheques, his films are finally receiving wider recognition. Featuring seven films (most of them in newly struck 35mm prints) which span the last 40 years, this retrospective series offers audiences an opportunity to learn from an incisive figure in Middle Eastern cinema whose work gives further context and background to the ongoing political and cultural changes in the region. Moumen Smihi will attend the April 10 and 11 programs.

The film retrospective is co-presented with Northwestern’s Middle East and North African Studies Program (MENA), the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies (BCICS), the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Harris Lecture Fund, and the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC). This program was curated by Peter Limbrick, associate professor of film and digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Special thanks to filmmaker Moumen Smihi; Brian T. Edwards, director of MENA; Dilip P. Gaonkar, associate professor of communication studies at the School of Communication; Brian T. Hanson, director of programs, research and strategic planning for the Buffett Center; Wendy L. Wall, professor of English and director of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Kaplan Institute; Hamid Naficy, professor of radio/television/film; program curator Peter Limbrick; and Livia Alexander, principal, LivAlex Advisory Services in New York.

The Films of Moumen Smihi, “The East Wind“ (“El Chergui”), 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10. (Moumen Smihi, 1975, Morocco, 35mm, 80 minutes). Set in the mid-1950s when Tangier was still an international zone, “El Chergui“ presents the city at the eve of its independence, as Aicha resorts to magical practices to try to prevent her husband from taking a second wife. Around her, a society of women creates its own form of active resistance even as the larger independence movement grows around it. It will be preceded by: “The Unlucky Man” (“Si Moh, pas de chance” by Moumen Smihi, 1971, Morocco, video, 17 minutes). Shot in Paris after Smihi completed film school, “Si Moh” is an investigation of the life of migrant workers in France. Moumen Smihi will attend the screening. 

The Films of Moumen Smihi, “44, or Tales of the Night,” 7 p.m. Friday, April 11 (Moumen Smihi, 1981, Morocco, 35mm, 110 minutes). Filmed in exceptionally beautiful widescreen images, “44” presents a fresco of Morocco’s 44 years of colonization under France. With  mise-en-scene that owes much to Visconti’s “The Leopard,” “44” tries to capture the privilege of a religious family from Fez and the struggles of an impoverished family in Chaouen, within a society fighting for its independence. Moumen Smihi will attend the screening.

The Films of Moumen Smihi – Double Feature, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 17, “Moroccan Chronicles” (Moumen Smihi, 1999, Morocco, 35mm, 70 minutes). Set in the ancient city of Fez, a working class mother, abandoned by her husband, tells three tales to her just-circumcised 10-year-old son. In the first, Smihi re-stages the Marrakech market scene from Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in which a monkey trainer makes children dance for tourists. In the second, two lovers meet on the ramparts of Orson Welles’ Essaouira locations for “Othello” and speak of their own forbidden love. And in the third, set in Smihi’s home town of Tangier, an old sailor dreams of vanquishing a sea monster: the Gibraltar ferry that connects Europe to Africa. • It will be followed by: “A Muslim Childhood” (Moumen Smihi, 2005, Morocco, 35mm, 83 minutes). This first film in a semi-autobiographical trilogy follows the everyday experiences of a timid pre-teen boy, Larbi Salmi, who struggles to make sense of his religious homelife, the secular education of his French school, and his budding desires for the forbidden pleasures of the cinema. All the while the film offers a tapestry of 1950s Tangier -- an international zone marked by the influence of Arab, Berber, European and American histories.

The Films of Moumen Smihi -- Double Feature, 7 p.m. Friday, April 18, “Girls and Swallows” (Moumen Smihi, 2008, Morocco, 35mm, 80 minutes). The second in the trilogy of stories devoted to the young Tangerian, Larbi Salmi, “Girls and Swallows” focuses on his passion for American and French pop culture, his own polymorphous nascent sexuality, and the different world views offered by his religious and secular educations. Told through a succession of stories from the medina and of Tangier, the film reflects on larger questions about the relationship of the sacred and sacrilegious, religion and politics, gender roles, sexuality, and freedom of thought within Arab-Islamic societies.

• It will be followed by: “Tanjawi: Sorrows of a Young Tangerian,” (Moumen Smihi, 2012, Morocco, 35mm, 95 minutes). Continuing the tales of Larbi Salmi, “Tanjawi” is set in the 1960s during the early years of Moroccan independence. Salmi, now in high school, is both full of revolutionary romanticism and also influenced by western culture. He declares his atheism to his religious father, and falls for his teacher, a beautiful young Parisian. When he joins the student political movement, only a miracle saves him from the repressive crackdown that his friends must suffer. Shot in startling long takes, the film is Smihi's boldest statement yet on religion and political histories in Morocco.


To coincide with the Block Museum’s current exhibition, “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” Block Cinema presents a companion film series featuring socially conscious films from the 1930s, covering issues such as unemployment and labor struggles, poverty and homeless camps (or “Hoovervilles” as they were known), xenophobia, anti-war sentiment and the growing need for social security and reform.

Heroes and Hoovervilles: Films of the Depression “Man’s Castle,” 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24 (Frank Borzage, 1933, United States, 35mm, 75 minutes). Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young star as a destitute young couple living in a Depression-era shantytown in Borzage’s beloved pre-code classic.

Heroes and Hoovervilles: Films of the Depression, “No Greater Glory” 7 p.m. Friday, April 25 (Frank Borzage, 1934, United States, 35mm, 74 minutes). Based on Ferenc Molnar's novel, “The Boys of Paul Street,” “No Greater Glory” centers on two rival gangs of schoolboys who are at war over the same playground. This seemingly simple story became one of Hollywood’s most profound and powerful anti-war allegories.


The Dittmar Memorial Gallery, first floor, Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, Northwestern University, Evanston campus, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Admission is free. The gallery focuses on ethnic cultural art, art by emerging artists, art by or about women, artwork by Northwestern art students and traveling art shows. For more information, contact the Dittmar Gallery at (847) 491-2348 or Norris University Center at (847) 491-2300, email or visit the Dittmar Memorial Gallery.


 “New Americans: Our Mutual Improvement and Social Elevation” by Jason Patterson, April 4 through May 11, Dittmar Memorial Gallery. Through slavery, Black people were forced to play an integral role in the birth and cultivation of the United States. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (also known as the “Reconstruction Amendments”) and the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the condition of slavery was replaced with cultural, economic, moral and legal oppression. Patterson’s exhibition is a stylized, contemporary examination of images emerging from a specific period in American history -- a collection of portraits rendered after 19th century tintypes, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. It intends to glorify that new age, focusing on the hope, potential freedom and happiness many former slaves and previously freed Black citizens envisioned after the Civil War. The exhibit is an idealized history and is not meant to tell a comprehensive history. An opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 4, is free and open to the public. 


The department of art theory and practice at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences offers free public lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year. For more, visit Art Theory and Practice.                                                        


Exhibitions at Northwestern University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston campus, are open to the public daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Members of the Northwestern community with a valid WildCARD can visit during all open library hours. Admission is free. For more information, visit Northwestern University Library or call (847) 491-7658.

“Ancient Monuments of Rome: Reconstructions by the Students of the Academie Francaise de Rome,” through June 20, Deering Library, Third Floor Lobby. From the time of the French Revolution to the beginning of the 20th century, the French architecture student winners of the Grand Prix scholarship to study at the French Academy in Rome were obliged to produce reconstructions of an ancient monument. In the 1870s, a half-dozen of the best and most interesting of these were engraved and published by the French government at great expense. This display, drawn from Northwestern’s McCormick Library of Special Collections by art history professor David Van Zanten, illustrates how such an archeological reconstruction have changed conceptions and techniques.

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