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The Block Commissions an Exibition by Geof Oppenheimer

Exhibition “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures” opens Sept. 12

  • Block’s new commission program shows commitment to artists working internationally
  • Exhibition will be artist Geof Oppenheimer’s first solo museum show in Midwest
  • Publication on Oppenheimer’s work with critical essays publishing spring 2016
  • Oppenheimer to speak with sociologist Richard Sennett at Chicago Humanities Festival

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University will present “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures,” the first solo museum exhibition by the artist Geof Oppenheimer (b.1973). The exhibition will open to the public on Sept. 12, 2015, with an opening celebration featuring remarks by the artist on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. The exhibition will close on Nov. 30.

“Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures” features two new works by Oppenheimer commissioned by the Block, including a large sculpture, occupying the entirety of the museum’s main gallery, and a video installation, 10 minutes in length, on the museum’s first floor. With each of these new works, Oppenheimer deepens his on-going investigations into the rational, regulating forces of human society, from political and economic systems to the proliferation of visual and textual rhetoric. The sculpture, “Civil/Evil,” probes structures of power and how they are communicated through material and image, pressure and release, upon the individual. The video, “DRAMA,” invokes how our relations to one another are shaped and predetermined by systems of exchange and labor. 

Included in museum group exhibitions and biennials nationally and internationally, this is the first solo exhibition by Oppenheimer in the city where he lives and works.

The Block recently expanded its contemporary art program, making a commitment to artists working globally. With this new initiative, the museum will undertake exhibitions and commissions of new works such as “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures” and will produce publications that consider an artist’s work within the context of his or her peers. The next project in this series will open in January 2017 and will feature a newly commissioned work by artist Kader Attia, who lives and works in Berlin. Attia will be an artist-in-residence at Northwestern’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities beginning in fall 2015.

Geof Oppenheimer, the inaugural artist invited to develop and present new work as part of this initiative, will also be the subject of a publication, the first focused exclusively on his work. The publication, to be released in spring 2016, will include essays by Dieter Roelstraete, member of the curatorial team for Documenta 14, who will survey Oppenheimer’s practice to date, and Anthony Elms, associate curator at the ICA Philadelphia, who will focus on the projects commissioned by the Block. Both authors, whose work straddles curating and art criticism, have worked previously with the artist.  

Throughout fall, the Block Museum will present opportunities to engage Oppenheimer’s work through gallery talks by scholars, critics, and artists in a series of free public programs. The cornerstone event will be a lecture by eminent sociologist and Chicago native, Richard Sennett, during the Chicago Humanities Festival. Currently serving as Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Department of Sociology at Cambridge University, Sennett explores how individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of material facts. Oppenheimer has cited Sennett as an important influence on the development of his ideas on citizenship and public space. The artist will interview Sennett following his lecture. In addition, Block Cinema, the museum’s in-house repertory cinema, will present a series of four films selected by the artist. 

Lisa Corrin, the Ellen Philips Katz Director at the Block, who has worked closely with the artist, states: “We are extremely proud that Geof Oppenheimer accepted the Block’s invitation to make us the site of his first one-person museum exhibition in Chicago. He wrestles with some of the most urgent issues of our time but does so using the power of materials to open experiential pathways into our own critical consideration of them.” 

Details on other public programs will be released in July 2015. Contact Joanna Gueller, communications manager, at 847-467-4602 or with requests for more information.

About “Civil/Evil” and “DRAMA”

Oppenheimer’s new sculpture “Civil/Evil” will occupy the Block’s entire main gallery. With this work, the artist pursues the ways in which institutions, and other structures of power, set up an often invisible circuitry that impacts the human experience.

In creating “Civil/Evil,” the artist considered and responded to nearly every aspect of the Block’s gallery space. In the center of the gallery, intersecting barrier-like walls constructed from cinder blocks will corral the viewer into different spaces. The organization of these walls will create a series of controls for the viewer, who at various points may be trapped or held, or conversely released.

With overt reference to architectures of control ranging from Soviet Bloc public housing to post-9/11 protective barrier walls, this powerful construction will question the ways in which structures regulate our daily lives.

The second new work, “DRAMA," a video exhibited in a separate gallery on continuous loop across multiple screens, is a ghost story about capitalism. Shot in a modern business office, this non-narrative video proceeds at a languid pace, evoking a sense of fragmentation and loneliness with its displays of everyday corporate life.

The film makes use of the spatial and material aspects of capital -- conference rooms, office furniture, long hallways, cubicles. Two male actors, dressed as mirror images of one another, appear in series of discontinuous scenes, shot in different spaces of the anonymous office. Throughout the film they perform the gestures of ritual exchange common to business practice.

Sculptural objects -- including large boulders and cartoonish ghostly forms -- appear and disappear, also behaving as mysterious, autonomous protagonists. These crudely fabricated, “dumb” forms are as blank as the negotiating businessmen, yet they suggest an alternative for those forces.

About Geof Oppenheimer

Trained as a sculptor, Geof Oppenheimer works across multiple mediums including stage set video productions, and photography. 

Oppenheimer's practice takes up questions of civic value, the ways in which political and social structures are encoded in images and objects, and how meaning is formed in the modern world. Starting from the proposition that formal value is a social value, his projects interrogate the forms and rules of civic discourse as a material, positing art as a space of liberated social dialogue. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at a variety of venues such as PS1/MOMA, Long Island City NY; The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; SITE Santa Fe; The Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Aspen Art Museum, CAB Brussels and AGORA 4th Athens Biennale. Oppenheimer's work has been the subject of published writings in Art in America, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. He studied at the Maryland Institute, College of Art where he received his BFA and received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. He also studied at the Academia voor Beeldende Vorming in the Netherlands. Represented by Ratio3, San Francisco, Geof lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

“Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures” has been generously supported by: the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, The Illinois Arts Council, The Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Foundation, Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross, and the Diane and Craig Solomon Contemporary Art Fund.

About The Mary AND Leigh Block Museum of Art

The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art enriches teaching and learning on the campuses of Northwestern University and in the communities of their surrounding regions by presenting art across time, cultures, and media; convening interdisciplinary discussions in which art is a springboard for exploring issues and ideas; and collecting art that supports the Northwestern University curriculum.

The museum aims to be a dynamic, imaginative, and innovative teaching and learning resource at Northwestern through an artistic program that is a springboard for thought-provoking discussions relevant to the curriculum and to our lives today. It seeks to inspire and develop a new generation of artists, scholars, and arts professionals by providing experiential learning opportunities bridging the classroom and the world beyond the campus; and to serve as a crossroad between campus and community, by creating an environment where all visitors feel welcome to participate. Admission is free and open to all. Visit to learn more about exhibitions, programs, film screenings, and partnerships. 

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