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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, with an opening celebration featuring remarks by the artist on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. The exhibition will close 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 ongoing 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, chief 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 are available at the Block’s events page.

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 and cubicles. Two male actors, dressed as mirror images of one another, appear in a 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, Oppenheimer lives and works in Chicago.

“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.

Information on other public events and related programing follows. All programs are at the Block and free except when noted otherwise. For details, visit the Block Museum of Art events calendar. 

Opening Day Program: A Conversation with Artist Geof Oppenheimer, from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, McCormick Auditorium, Artist Geof Oppenheimer will join the Block’s director, Lisa Corrin, in a conversation about his art. Meet the artist at a reception at the Block Museum following the lecture. The Block will be open for viewing the exhibition throughout the day.

Conversation: Artist Geof Oppenheimer and Guest Film Curator Will Schmenner, from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15. In conjunction with his exhibition, the artist has curated a special film series for Block Cinema to explore what it means to watch movies today. Oppenheimer and London-based guest film curator Will Schmenner will discuss key clips from the series, including “The Dark Knight.” Their discussion will be followed by a screening of Lars von Trier’s “Boss of It All” at 8 p.m. See the Block’s website for further details on the film series. 

Conversation: Richard Sennett and Artist Geof Oppenheimer, from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall in the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. For nearly 50 years, Richard Sennett has been one of our most respected thinkers about cities, labor and culture. Sennett will take a bird’s eye view of citizenship today, and then be joined in conversation by Geof Oppenheimer. This program is generously underwritten by Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross and is presented in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival as part of its “Evanston Day.” Visit to purchase tickets ($12 CHF members, $15 general and $10 student tickets).

Gallery Talk: Art Historian David Getsy, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28. Join David Getsy, interim dean of graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for a gallery talk on the Geof Oppenheimer exhibition, “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures.” 

Lecture: Cultural Critic Brian Holmes, The Cyborg in the Sphere, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4. Cultural critic Brian Holmes explores the contemporary construct of the financial sphere and its inhabitants, the “masters of the universe,” as portrayed in the work of Geof Oppenheimer. He will consider lightning-fast electronic signals, advanced mathematical representations and the seductive sheen of cool glass that wreak havoc on our sublunary world.

Poetry Reading: "A Poem is a Sculpture," from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. Visitors are invited to join artist Geof Oppenheimer for an opportunity to read and reflect upon poems selected in conjunction with his solo exhibition “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures.”


Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2015, The Block Museum is Northwestern University’s art museum. The Block is a dynamic, imaginative and innovative teaching and learning resource for Northwestern and its surrounding communities, featuring a global exhibition program that crosses time periods and cultures and serves as a springboard for thought-provoking discussions relevant to our lives today.

The museum also commissions new work by artists to foster connections with the public through the creative process. Each year, the Block mounts exhibitions; organizes and hosts lectures, symposia and workshops, involving artists, scholars, curators and critics; and screens classic and contemporary films at its in-house cinema. The museum also reaches national and international audiences through its traveling exhibitions, publications and website. Its growing permanent collection of approximately 5,000 works focuses primarily on prints, photography and drawings.

Located on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, the Block is housed in a building designed by Dirk Lohan, the grandson of the pioneering modernist architect Mies van der Rohe. The Block Museum is at the heart of Northwestern’s new Arts Circle, scheduled to open in fall 2015. The Arts Circle will, for the first time, unite all visual and performing arts in one neighborhood, inspiring collaborations across art forms and underscoring the University’s commitment to providing a unique site where campus and community can connect to celebrate creativity across artistic disciplines. The Block is free and open to all.

For more information, contact Susy Bielak, associate director of engagement/curator of public practice, at

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