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Provocative Work by Golub and Neshat at Block

September 9, 2010 | by Judy Moore
"Alarmed Dog Encountering Pink!" by Leon Golub

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The late drawings of provocative American artist Leon Golub and a poetic video installation that brought international acclaim to Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat form the cornerstones of fall 2010 visual arts programming at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

Free and open to the public, the exhibitions “Leon Golub: Live & Die Like a Lion?” and “Shirin Neshat: Rapture” are on view Sept. 24 through Dec. 12 in the Block’s Main and Alsdorf galleries, respectively, at 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.


Born and educated in Chicago, Leon Golub (1922–2004) is known for large-scale paintings protesting injustice and inhumanity and a figurative style inspired by classical sculpture, sports and journalism photography, and other mass media images. While drawing had always been a part of his artistic practice, it became a primary activity from 1999 until his death. “I want to throw drawings in all directions,” Golub said in 2004. “That’s my ultimate intent: to have them be political, to have them be erotic, to have them be neurotic, to have them be just rotten.”

With scrawled, often farcical captions, the 42 drawings in “Live & Die Like a Lion?”, most on vellum or Bristol board, depict women, couples and mythical creatures in sexualized poses, majestic lions, savage dogs, and defiant and defeated men, skulls and skeletons on colorful, smeared backgrounds. The 8-by-10-inch, oil-stick and ink works mark a stylistic shift for the artist toward a more improvisational form and fluid line and show his incorporation of personal themes, such as Eros and his own mortality.

Curated by Brett Littman, executive director of the Drawing Center, New York, the exhibition also features Golub’s only existent unfinished canvas -- a chalk drawing of two lions -- along with background drawings and source material that reveal the artist’s process. A companion publication ($20), available at the Block, includes more than 50 color plates with essays by Littman and Eduardo Cadava, professor of English, Princeton University. “Leon Golub: Live & Die Like a Lion?” is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Dedalus Foundation. Additional funding for the publication has been provided by Frayda and Ronald Feldman, Harriet and Ulrich Meyer, and Caroline Shapiro and Peter Frey.


The theme of oppression seen in Golub’s art is a facet of Iranian-born and U.S.-based photographer, video artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat’s (b. 1957) work. But, like Golub, Neshat explores a wider array of subjects, including gender roles and sexual desire.

Influential art critic Arthur Danto has called “Rapture” (1999), an 11-and-a-half minute, black-and-white video and sound installation, Neshat’s “masterpiece.” Projected onto opposite screens, the highly stylized “Rapture” shows what Neshat has called “an allegorical duel” between white-shirted men occupying a seaside fortress on one side and, on the other, black-veiled women moving from a desert to the beach outside the fortress. The stark beauty of the landscapes and compositions, the contrasting poses and actions of the men and women, and the layered soundtrack of wind, chanting and singing create a hypnotic experience.

“Shirin Neshat: Rapture” is shown from the collection of Pamela and Richard Kramlich.

Visit http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu to see images from both exhibitions.


The Block has organized a number of programs to complement its fall exhibitions. Unless noted, the following are free and open to the public.

Block Cinema: “Late Works Are the Catastrophes,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 (Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn, 2005, USA, video, 80 minutes). This fascinating documentary examines how Leon Golub’s later works focused not merely on images of violence and oppression but on those darker aspects of the human condition that cannot be transcended without first being confronted head-on.

Hamid Dabashi on Shirin Neshat: Films and Discussion, 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16. Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, Columbia University, New York, will introduce a screening of Neshat’s best short works, including “Turbulent” (1998) and “Fervor” (2000), and lead a discussion afterward.

Leon Golub’s Process and Practice, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20. Samm Kunce, Golub’s studio manager, will discuss the artist’s working methods.

Book Club and Block Cinema: “Women Without Men,” 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3. Brian Edwards, associate professor of English and comparative literary studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern, leads a discussion of Shahrnush Parsipur's poignant novel, which tells the interlocking stories of five Tehrani women and was the basis for Neshat’s 2009 feature-film debut. $25 fee includes a copy of the book. Space is limited; e-mail blockeducation@northwestern.edu to register. To be followed by a free screening of “Women Without Men” (Shirin Neshat, 2009, Germany /France /Austria, 35mm, 99 minutes) at 7 p.m.

Gallery Talk, 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11. Brett Littman, executive director of the Drawing Center, New York, and curator of “Leon Golub: Live & Die Like a Lion?”, leads an in-gallery discussion of the exhibition.

• Conversation: Art and Oppression, Leon Golub and Shirin Neshat, 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13. Eduardo Cadava, professor of English, Princeton University, and Ranjanna Khanna, Margaret Taylor Smith Director of Women’s Studies, Duke University, discuss the treatment of oppression in the artwork of Golub and Neshat.

The Block Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The museum is closed on Mondays.

For more information, visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu or call (847) 491-4000.

Topics: Campus Life