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September/October Visual Arts Calendar

Northwestern University exhibitions and events at Block Museum and Dittmar Gallery

September 27, 2011 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- An exhibition of Soviet art posters and cartoons that is a vivid reminder of the Cold War era; a companion exhibition of pre-Russian Revolution book art; and displays of Russian and American World War II propaganda posters and memorabilia from a famous Russian composer’s 1970s Evanston campus visit will open to the public in late September. 

All are among the fall 2011 exhibitions at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and University Library

The exhibitions “Views and Re-Views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons” (Sept. 20 to Dec. 4) and “Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde, 1910–1917,” (Sept. 23 to Dec. 11) will be at the Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

“They Were Fighting for Our Freedom: American and Soviet Propaganda Posters of World War II” (Sept. 20 to March 19, 2012), “Dmitri Shostakovich at Northwestern” (Sept. 20 to March 19, 2012) and “Papering Over Tough Times: Soviet Propaganda Posters of the 1930s” (Nov. 2 to June 15, 2012) will be at the University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. 

All five exhibitions are free and open to the public.

The Block Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday; and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The museum is closed on Monday. For more information, visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu or call (847) 491-4000.

University Library exhibits are open to the public daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit www.library.northwestern.edu or call (847) 491-7658.

The exhibitions and programs below are part of The Soviet Arts Experience, a 16-month long, Chicago-wide showcase of art created under and in response to the Politburo of the Soviet Union. Visit www.SovietArtsExperience.org for a full schedule of events.


“Views and Re-Views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons” Sept. 20 to Dec. 4, Block Museum, Main Gallery. Two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Views and Re-Views” provides a post-Cold War assessment of Soviet graphic arts with posters, cartoons, postcards and photomontages from six decades. It reconsiders the artistic merits and stylistic diversity of art created as state propaganda. The exhibition includes well-known Soviet graphic works by artists Viktor Deni, Dmitri Moor, El Lissitsky and Gustav Klutsis as well as lesser-known but equally compelling work by the Kukryniksy (a three-artist collaborative), Alexander Zhitomirsky and others. The exhibition was organized by the David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University.

“Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde, 1910–1917,” Sept. 23 to Dec. 11, Block Museum, Alsdorf Gallery. The exhibition chronicles the dramatic transformation of book art during the tumultuous years before the Russian Revolution as visual artists and writers collaborated on hand-lithographed publications to convey intense ambivalence about their country’s past, present and future. The exhibition title comes from a book and poem by Russian avant-garde poet Vasily Kamensky. It is organized by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


“Theo Leffmann: Weaving A Life into Art,” Sept. 20 to Dec. 4, Block Museum, Theo Leffman Gallery. The fiber art of Chicago artist Theo Leffmann (1911-96) evokes the ancient and the exotic, echoing pre-Columbian and non-Western processes and forms with a distinct personal vision. Her 40-year career coincided with a revolution in textile art as the division between “high art” and “craft” diminished. The display of Leffmann’s colorful, richly textured and playful weavings, wall hangings and sculptural objects is drawn from the Block Museum’s permanent collection. The works are generous gifts from her husband Paul Leffmann.


“They Were Fighting for Our Freedom: American and Soviet Propaganda Posters of World War II,” Sept. 20 to March 19, University Library. “They Were Fighting for Our Freedom” examines the portrayal of similar war themes -- courage, strength in numbers, the home front, heroic military traditions, the vile foe -- in the different artistic languages of the United States and the U.S.S.R. The exhibition is a collaboration of the University Library and the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography/Kunstkamera, St. Petersburg.

“Dmitri Shostakovich at Northwestern,” Sept. 20 to March 19, University Library. In June 1973, Northwestern bestowed an honorary degree upon Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Organized by the Northwestern Music Library and University Archives, this exhibition recalls Shostakovich’s visit to campus through original documents and materials, including rare Shostakovich scores published in the Soviet Union. 

“Papering Over Tough Times: Soviet Propaganda Posters of the 1930s,” Nov. 2 to June 15. Drawn from the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, the exhibition demonstrates attempts by the Soviet government to inspire, placate, inform and frighten its citizens during an era of social engineering.


Block exhibition tours. Block Museum docents will lead free tours of “Views and Re-Views” and “Tango with Cows” at 1 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 1 through Dec. 4. To schedule a group or school tour, e-mail blockeducation@northwestern.edu or visit http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/visit/guided-tours.html.


The following fall 2011 programs will be at the Block Museum or elsewhere, as noted. Unless indicated, they are free and open to the public.

 “The Soviet Arts Experience on Campus,” noon, Tuesday, Sept. 27 and noon, Thursday, Sept. 29, University Library and Block Museum. Take a guided tour of the Soviet art exhibitions at the Block and University Library. Tours begin at the University Library and end with a coffee reception at the Block.

The Phyllis Weil Ellis Lecture, “Educating the Eye: Sculpture In and Out of the Block,” 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. Join internationally renowned artist Neil Goodman for a discussion of his sculptural work and an exclusive tour of the Block’s outdoor sculpture. In the event of rain, a “virtual” tour will take place inside the museum.

“The Nature and Politics of Form in Soviet Posters, 1930–1965,” 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, Block Museum. Christina Kiaer, associate professor of art history at Northwestern University, and Robert Bird, associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Chicago, will reflect on form and meaning in Soviet graphic arts. A reception follows the program. Cosponsored by the Northwestern department of art history, this event kicks off three days of programs in Chicago devoted to Soviet graphic arts. Visit www.sovietartsexperience.org for information about Oct. 14 and 15 events at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum at Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Family Day: Tango with Sound,” 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, Block Museum. Visitors can tap into their inner avant-garde artist during this day of experimental poetry performance and handmade books of sound-guided imagery. Recommended for families with children aged 6 to 12. Admission is free for Block Museum members; and $5 per family for nonmembers. Advance registration at blockeducation@northwestern.edu is required.

The Elizabeth and Todd Warnock Lecture Series, “What is Islamic Architecture Anyway?” 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, Block Museum. Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor of the History of Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will address the historically antagonistic conceptions of the study of Islamic architecture. A reception follows the lecture.


The Dittmar Memorial Gallery, Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston campus is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Admission is free. The gallery focuses on ethnic cultural art, art by emerging artists, art by or about women, artwork by Northwestern undergraduate and graduate art students and traveling art shows. For information, call the Dittmar Gallery at (847) 491-2348 or Norris University Center at (847) 491-2300, e-mail dittmargallery@northwestern.edu or visit www.dittmar.northwestern.edu.

Shelley Gilchrist and Alan Emerson Hicks, “Plastic & Wax: Ad Astra,” Sept. 29 to Oct. 31, Dittmar Memorial Gallery. Space and sky link the visually interactive and distinctive works of Evanston artist Shelley Gilchrist and Chicago sculptor Alan Emerson Hicks. Gilchrist is inspired by the natural environment and works with natural materials, such as wood and wax. Hicks recycles and repurposes the plastic rubbish that surrounds us, often using it to create work that references the natural world. Both create works with a strong sense of play manifested in color, pattern and rhythm. An opening reception at the gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, is free and open to the public.