Block Museum exhibit travels to NYU’s Grey Art Gallery

Peter Kotecki, Reporter


An exhibit that premiered at the Block Museum of Art has traveled to a New York University gallery as part of a partnership between the two schools’ art museums.

Block’s 2014 exhibit, “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” is currently on display in NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. The exhibit was at Block from January to June last year, Block Museum director Lisa Corrin said.

The exhibition draws from Block’s collection of artwork created by members of the John Reed Club in the 1930s, Corrin said. Club members were artists, writers, intellectuals and cultural leaders who were concerned about both racial and economic inequality in the United States, she added. 

“They believed that art could enact social change,” she said.

Members of the John Reed Clubs worked primarily in the medium of printmaking, because it was a democratic medium that allowed for easy distribution to the masses, Corrin said.

John Murphy, a graduate fellow at Block, was developing an exhibit when he realized that although the literary work of the John Reed Clubs was well known, little work had been done about the visual artists involved, Corrin said.

Block received a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to prepare The Left Front. Murphy and his colleague, Jill Bugajski, joined the curatorial team for the exhibition that is now at the Grey.

“They provided additional funds to allow it to travel,” Grey Art Gallery director Lynn Gumpert said about the Terra Foundation’s grant. “The fact that the Terra Foundation made this generous grant really helped make sure (The Left Front) came to New York.”

Murphy said the Grey had to leave out a few works because the gallery’s space is smaller than Block’s. 

“There is also a difference in terms of emphasis,” Murphy said. “In New York, there is more of an emphasis on the history of the John Reed Clubs in New York City. Here in Chicago and Evanston, we placed more of an emphasis on the history of artists in Chicago.”

This emphasis was reflected in some of the content that sets the current version of The Left Front apart from its time at Block.

“At the Grey Art Gallery, we have added some photographs, a poster and some film footage from Tamiment Library, which is one of the foremost libraries of labor archives in the country,”Gumpert said. “It is one of the special collections at NYU.”

Corrin said the library at NYU contains the archives of the American Communist Party.

“It seemed especially relevant and important to have it there,” Corrin said. “We are excited that we are working on three different exhibitions with the Grey. This is the first of three.”

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