Sep 22nd 2021

How do artists, artworks, and museums shape and challenge our understanding of the past?

In 2020-2021 Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art celebrates its 40th anniversary. Leading up to this milestone, The Block introduced a major initiative to acquire works of art that encourage critical thinking about the representation of history. This initiative and The Block’s anniversary celebration culminates with Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection, an exhibition inviting visitors to think critically about how artists, artworks, and museums engage with narratives of the past.

Highlighting more than eighty modern and contemporary artworks recently acquired by The Block Museum of Art, the exhibition considers our constantly changing understanding of the past through the lens of artistic practice. It features works by a wide-ranging selection of artists exploring the idea of history, such as Dawoud Bey, Shan Goshorn, the Guerrilla Girls, Louise Lawler, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, Walid Raad, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Kara Walker.

The exhibition borrows its title and an entry point from a work in The Block’s collection by conceptual artist Louise Lawler, Who Says, Who Shows, Who Counts (1990), which draws attention to barriers that exist within the art world. Organized around challenging questions of historical representation within artworks and institutions, the exhibition asks:

How can art help us reflect upon, question, rewrite, or reimagine the past?
Who has been represented in visual art, how, and by whom?
How is history etched onto a landscape or erased from it?
How do museums and galleries shape our view of the past?
An accompanying publication deepens the exhibition’s exploration of The Block’s collection. Showcasing the depth and breadth of recent acquisitions, more than fifty short essays reflect the perspectives of over twenty different academic units. Further essays illustrate the museum’s commitment to collecting works of art that connect to Northwestern’s broad curriculum and deepen representation of global modern and contemporary culture from multiple perspectives.

Including voices from students, alumni, faculty, and staff, Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts invites visitors to reflect on the ways in which art can facilitate multidisciplinary connections, ask challenging questions, and tell stories about issues relevant to our lives.

Curated by Essi Rönkkö, Associate Curator of Collections and Kate Hadley Toftness, Senior Advancement Manager, Grants and Collection Council. This exhibition is supported by the Alumnae of Northwestern University, the David C. & Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and the Mary and Leigh Block Endowment.

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