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Block Museum Exhibits Photographs Exploring the Seen and Unseen

July 8, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Photographs that evoke the complex dimensions of people and places are on display at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this summer.

“Place and Presence: Photography from the Collection,”
the Block Museum’s summer 2009 exhibition, will be open to the public from July 9 through Aug. 30, in the Alsdorf Gallery. From quiet interiors and mysterious landscapes to intimate portraits and symbolic visages, the works in this exhibition examine the experience of places and the perception of character beneath the surface. “Place and Presence” also gives proclamation to the Block Museum’s rapidly growing collection of photography.

These 30 photographs, many of which have never been publicly displayed at the museum before now, represent only a fragment of the Block’s holdings. While the exhibition is not intended to be a survey of the collection or a historical overview, it celebrates past achievements and presents a fascinating group of psychologically complex works.

“Place and Presence” features works by Chicago-based photographers, including Jane Calvin, Scott Fortino, Laura Letinsky and Brad Temkin, as well as international artists such as Guatemala’s Luis González Palma and the Iranian-born Shirin Neshat.

Some highlights of the exhibition include the following:

Scott Fortino, a Chicago police officer for more than 30 years, is known for his stark photographs of institutional spaces that explore the psychology of confinement and protection. He uses his lens to capture the interiors of police holding cells and jury rooms, and other places that his badge allows him to enter. Employing a long exposure in the color photograph “Advocacy Interview Room for Victims of Domestic Violence” (2005), Fortino captures the unoccupied interior with precision and a heightened depth of field.

Laura Letinsky says she is interested in looking at “what is ‘after the fact,’ at what (ma)lingers, at what persists and by inference, at what is gone.” “Untitled #14” (2005) is part of “Somewhere Somewhere,” in which Letinsky photographed homes after their occupants have moved out but before new residents had moved in. Devoid of people, the photograph allows the viewer to contemplate the physical properties of an empty room, such as the rays of light streaking though the window blinds and the stripes on the wallpaper.

Installation artist and photographer Jane Calvin’s  “Dis-Location” (2004) is an intricate color image that disorients with its fragmented spaces, Wonder Woman comic, acrobatic clown, reversed text and formal gown. Calvin constructs her complex photographs without the use of darkroom or digital tricks. Instead she builds room-sized assemblages with found objects, projects slides onto them and photographs the resulting tableaux into which layers of meaning are woven.

Brad Temkin’s photographic career began with music industry clients that included Mercury Records, “Creem” magazine and several rock music promoters. He eventually began to photograph other subjects, including gardens and cancer patients. Temkin’s “Lalou – Copenhagen, Denmark,” from his series “Portraits” (2005), shows a family friend, a blond-haired young woman whose captivating blue-eyed gaze stares directly back, inviting contemplation of her complex reaction to being captured on film. 

Guatemalan-born Luis González Palma discovered photography as an architect-turned artist and an observer of Latin American culture. His artwork often refers to the struggles of the Mayan Indians. “Lottery I” (1988-91) combines nine sepia-toned silver gelatin prints, bitumen (a tar-like substance) and the artist’s manipulation of the surface through slashing and abrasions. The title refers to a bingo-type game Spanish colonists used to teach their language to the Mayas.

Artist Shirin Neshat was born in Iran and now lives in New York. Neshat moved to the United States to attend art college. In 1979 when revolution had overtaken her homeland, she was exiled and unable to return until 1990. While her work explores issues of her native country, it communicates universal ideas about loss, meaning and memory. Neshat’s “Untitled (men)” and “Untitled (women)” from the 1999 “Rapture Series” show gender-segregated groups gathered for Islamic prayer and meditation.

The Block Museum is organizing and presenting activities and programs to complement its Summer 2009 photo exhibition. The following events will be held at the Block Museum and are open to the public free of charge:


Block Museum senior curator Debora Wood will lead a gallery talk related to the Block’s summer exhibition “Place and Presence: Photography from the Collection” at 6 p.m. Friday, July 24, at the Block Museum.


Families are invited to visit the Block Museum for Family Days, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 12, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9, to participate in a variety of art making activities, tours and more. Both days are free and pre-registration is not required.


Block Museum docent-led tours of the exhibition “Place and Presence” and the museum’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden, featuring monumental bronze works by Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth and other modern artists, take place at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, July 11 through August 30. These tours are free and reservations are not required.

Group tours by appointment, from July 9 through Aug. 30. The Block Museum offers free guided tours to groups of eight or more. Group tours may be arranged by contacting blockeducation@northwestern.edu. For more information, visit

Interactive tours for school or summer camp groups are also available for $10 to $25 per group. To arrange a school or camp group tour, contact blockeducation@northwestern.edu or visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/education/family-youth.html.


Effective July 9 through Aug. 30, the museum’s summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays.

Admission to the museum is free; unless noted, admission to all programs also is free. For more information regarding Block Museum exhibitions, programs or location, phone (847) 491-4000 or go to the Block Museum Web site at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

For more information contact Burke Patten at (847) 467-4602 or bpatten@northwestern.edu
Topics: Campus Life