September 14, 2021

Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

Victor Diop, Juan de Pareja, 2014. Pigment inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist and MAGNIN-A. 

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

In 2020–21 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 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 80 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 issues 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 dominant canons of art history shape our view of history and 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 50 short essays reflect the perspectives of over 20 different academic units. Including voices from students, alumni, faculty, and staff, both the book and exhibition reflect on the ways in which art can facilitate multidisciplinary connections, ask challenging questions, and help us to envision new futures.

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 David C. & Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, Ellen and Howard Katz, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and the Mary and Leigh Block Endowment.

Explore exhibition works
Explore the key themes and artworks from Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts by browsing within The Block's online collection database: Institutions Critiqued; Critical Portraits; Reframing the Past; Place and Memory.

Companion publication: Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts
Distributed by Northwestern University Press, September 2021, 144 pages, Softcover, ISBN 978-1-7325684-2-6, 25 USD

Related programs schedule
A full season of related cinema events, programs, curator tours, and student associate talks is now available, including options for both in-person and virtual engagements.

Exhibition keynote (Zoom conversation and live viewing party): September 29, 6–8pm
With exhibition artists Andrea Carlson, Tonika Lewis Johnson, and Chris Pappan.

Students Shape the Collection: October 20, 6–8pm
Artist Leonard Suryajaya and museum Student Associates discuss 2021 student-led acquisition selection Quarantine Blues.

Sky Hopinka: Channeling Indigenous Histories: November 10, 6–8pm
Artist in discussion on his practice and Cloudless Blue Egress of Summer media installation.

Block Museum exhibitions and events are free and open to the public. Northwestern is closely monitoring developments related to the coronavirus pandemic and will follow local, state, and University guidelines for in-person events and museum visitation. All visitors must follow the Northwestern University COVID-19 Guidelines, which are in place at the time of visitation.

Thank you!

An email with a confirmation link has been sent to the email address you entered. To complete your subscription, click this link.