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The New Yorker Magazine Showcases Northwestern Art Exhibition

Review highlights the Chicago roots, curators, success of the Block Museum’s “Left Front”

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s art exhibition “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art has recently garnered shout-outs from The New Yorker magazine and The New York Times.

In its Jan. 26, 2015, issue, The New Yorker highlighted the scholarly show now on display in New York University’s Grey Gallery that was conceived and launched at the Block last year and won wide praise for its depiction of a moment in U.S. cultural history when visual artists joined forces to form a “left front” to make socially conscious art.

“The show originated at Northwestern University, where it was curated by John Murphy and Jill Bugajski, and it focused on the movement’s legacy in Chicago. (‘Left Front’ was the name of an activist magazine published in that city in the early thirties.) It has now been expanded with material from New York,” according to the review by the magazine’s staff writer and art critic, Peter Schjeldahl.

Lisa Corrin, Ellen Philips Katz Director of the Block Museum of Art, said she was proud to see the national recognition for the Block’s expanding impact on the American arts stage, noting, “Our great university and our two talented student curators have received a glowing shout-out. Most important is that three key Block mission/vision goals have been achieved: mentoring the next generation, promoting Northwestern’s excellence in the arts and sharing landmark scholarship with the broadest possible audience. What is most impressive is that the checklist for the exhibition is largely drawn from the Block’s own collection.”

On Thursday (Jan. 22), The New York Times also highlighted the Block’s efforts and the impact and example of its “Left Front” exhibition in an article about racism and the art world’s response to it. The piece focused in part on Smack Mellon, a nonprofit alternative space in Brooklyn, reacting to the news Dec. 3, 2014, of the grand jury in New York deciding not to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black resident of Staten Island.

In the article examining the broader issue of art reacting to political, racial and social justice issues, The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Holland Cotter praised the Block Museum’s traveling exhibition, “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929- 1940,” in New York.

Cotter sited the exhibition of Depression-era art, which was co-curated by Northwestern scholars John Murphy and Jill Bugajski, as a “carefully researched traveling show of political art assembled by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University.”

“The Left Front,” which was unveiled at the Block in winter 2014, revisits a moment in American history when visual artists, through their membership in the progressive John Reed Club (JRC), joined forces to form a “left front” with writers and intellectuals dedicated to making socially conscious art.

The exhibition considers specific conditions of Chicago -- its industrial legacy, its massive immigration, its ethnic neighborhoods, its historical associations with anarchism and labor unrest, and its commitment to social reform through institutions like Hull House -- as the backdrop against which works by Chicago’s JRC and American Artists’ Congress evolved.

For more on “The Left Front,” visit the Block Musuem's past exhibits.

Read Northwestern News coverage of the exhibition at:

Block Winter Exhibits Show Chicago Artists as Activisits, Tastemakers

Artist's Son Visits Block Museum 

Red Decade Exhibit Reflects Future of Block Museum

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