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New York School Leader Highlights Block Exhibit

August 11, 2009 | by Judy Moore
Robert Motherwell, Elegy Study C, 1977, oil on paper mounted on paper board. Collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Gift of Margaret and Angus Wurtele and the Dedalus Foundation, 1995.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A sweeping retrospective of a major American artist’s work and an unusual print portfolio by one of the most important British sculptors of the 20th century grace Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this fall.

The art and rhetoric of Robert Motherwell (1915–91) helped define the New York School, a group of abstract painters active in the 1940s and 1950s that also included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. With an extensive academic background, Motherwell acted as the movement’s unofficial spokesperson, writing and speaking about his generation of artists.

Influenced by surrealism and psychology, Motherwell employed techniques designed to release the artistic process from rational control and express the subconscious, as seen, for example, in his “Red Pencil Automatism” and “Lyric Suite” drawings. His art explored themes both intimate, such as a series of collages incorporating personal items like cigarette packets and pieces of mail, and international, like “Elegies to the Spanish Republic,” a subject he reworked in various formats throughout his life.

“Robert Motherwell: An Attitude Toward Reality, From the Collection of the Walker Art Center” offers an overview and introduction to the artist, spanning more than four decades of his career with more than 40 drawings, collages, prints, and paintings. Organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the exhibition is in the Block Museum’s Main Gallery Sept. 25 to Dec. 6.

Henry Moore (1898–1936) may be best known for his monumental bronze sculptures situated as public art in locations around the world (his iconic 1981 work “Interior Form” is just outside the Block Museum’s main entrance), but Moore’s creative output included drawing and printmaking as well. In the 1960s the artist became intrigued by the skull of an African elephant kept in the London garden of his friends Sir Julian and Lady Juliette Huxley. The Huxleys eventually gave the skull to Moore, who examined the object’s internal and external spaces in a series of etchings printed as an album in 1970. Moore called the works “a mixture of observation and imagination,” noting that while studying and drawing the skull up close he “. . . could begin to see in it great deserts and rocky landscapes, big caves in the sides of hills, great pieces of architecture, columns, and dungeons.”

“Henry Moore: Elephant Skull,” in the Block Museum’s Alsdorf Gallery Sept. 22 through Dec. 13, exhibits all 28 prints Moore produced for the portfolio, along with its rare original vellum cover. Unique in its relentless exploration of a single subject, the album is a recent acquisition by the Block. The exhibition will also include the skull of an elephant on loan from Chicago’s Field Museum.

The Block Museum is organizing a series of programs in the fall to complement these exhibitions.

The Block Museum is located on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus at 40 Arts Circle Drive. Admission to the museum is free. Gallery hours for the fall are Tuesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays. Free parking is available in designated lots on the Northwestern University campus weekdays (Mondays through Fridays) after 4 p.m. and all day on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays). Parking passes are required at all other times and can be purchased for $7 at the Block Museum or at the University Parking Office at 1819 Hinman Ave. Permits should be obtained before parking your vehicle. For more information, phone (847) 491-4000 or go to the Block Museum Web site at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

Topics: Campus Life