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Famous artworks are the ‘Muse’ for new Dittmar Gallery exhibit

Work by Niki Grangruth and James Kinser will be on display from Oct. 20 to Dec. 3
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Niki Grangruth and James Kinser recreated the Johannes Vermeer painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

The Dittmar Gallery will present “Muse,” a series of 15 photographs exploring gender identity that feature subjects ranging from Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” to Vermeer's “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” The exhibit will be on view in the gallery from Oct. 20 to Dec. 3 at Norris University Center on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

The photo series by Niki Grangruth and James Kinser recreates famous artworks throughout art history that feature female subjects. By using a male model and handcrafting each outfit, the artists challenge conventional beauty standards tied to each gender. The work also rejects rigid binary gender identities and instead explores the idea of gender as a flexible construct.

After being brought together by a mutual friend, Grangruth and Kinser discovered their shared passion for art history and nonbinary gender expression.

“We gave ourselves homework to look through our art history books and identify images with which we resonated. When we shared our research, we discovered that at least half of the images we had selected were identical. From that alignment nearly 15 years ago, we began planning our first ‘Muse’ project photo shoots,” Kinser said.

Although Grangruth and Kinser both specialize in different artistic areas, they consider themselves equal authors of “Muse.” While Grangruth studies the space needed to construct the set and Kinser works on costumes used in the shoots, they both built the sets together. From selecting the right fabric for the costumes to the post-production Photoshop adjustments, Grangruth and Kinser are in constant collaboration.  

Grangruth is a Minneapolis-based photographer whose work focuses on societal beauty standards, gender and the body. Her work has been displayed nationally at museums and galleries. She received her Bachelor of Arts in studio art and English from Saint Olaf College, and her Master of Fine Arts in photography from Columbia College Chicago.

Kinser, a Chicago-based multimedia artist, combines costume design and performance to create works that challenge traditional gender roles and identities. Previously, his work focused on the body, sexuality and spirituality. Kinser received his Bachelor of Arts in art education and fine art from Bethany College, and a Master of Arts in interdisciplinary art at Columbia College Chicago.

An opening reception with the artists will be held Friday, Oct. 20, from 6 - 8 p.m. in the Dittmar Gallery.

Dittmar Gallery admission is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Sundays, except when a new exhibition is being mounted.

For more information, visit the Dittmar website, call the Dittmar Gallery at 847-491-2348 or email

Elisa Huang is a work-study student in the the Office of Global Marketing and Communications.