Contemporary art expert Janet Dees joins Block Museum

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

Contemporary art expert Janet Dees will join Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art this fall as a curator, the museum announced last week.

Dees, who joins the museum Sept. 21, will focus on modern and contemporary art with a global perspective, said Kathleen Bickford Berzock, associate director of curatorial affairs at Block. The new curator will work with international, diasporic, colonial and postcolonial art, Berzock said.

Dees said she is excited to come to NU and looks forward to working with the museum staff.

“The opportunity to work at a museum within the context of a research university is very exciting to me, and the opportunity to connect with faculty and students across disciplines, and the ability to really slow down and dig deeper in the kinds of projects that I’ll be proposing,” she said.

Berzock said Dees, a PhD candidate in 18th-20th century American art history at the University of Delaware, is a great fit for the curator position because of her training in contemporary and American art.

“She also has a strong background with modern art, but she has always approached that from multiple perspectives,” Berzock added.

Throughout her career, Dees has worked with African, African American, Native American and Latin American artists to weave their diasporas into the study of modern and contemporary art, Berzock said.

“Those are all really important strengths for the program that we have here at the Block and (Dees) has specific kinds of expertise that complement the expertise on site already,” she said.

Dees is coming to NU from SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art organization. In Santa Fe, Dees was part of a team that organized “SITElines: New Perspectives on the Art of the Americas,” a Pan-American biennial exhibition series on contemporary art.

“(Dees’) work specifically at SITE Santa Fe has been very important, both because she has worked a lot with living artists … and also because she has really actualized the kind of global approach that we are committed to,” Berzock said.

Berzock said Dees will join two ongoing projects upon assuming her position. The first is an exhibition on the intersection of modernity and Africa produced by French-Algerian contemporary artist Kader Attia, artist-in-residence at Block for the upcoming academic year. For the second, Dees will be the on-site curator of an exhibition on the work of the late photographer and performance artist Tseng Kwong Chi, opening in Fall 2016.

Berzock said Dees will also work on getting to know NU and its neighboring region to propose exhibition projects of her own to Block.

As part of her engagement with the campus and its surroundings, Dees said she is interested in researching art of the African diaspora at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at NU — the largest Africana collection outside the African continent — and learning about the landscape of the Chicago area.

“I think it’s important to get an understanding of the institution and the wider community to see what the needs are, and to see what resonates within that particular context as I think about how I would shape an exhibition program,” Dees said.

Huey Copeland, art history professor and associate dean for academic affairs at The Graduate School, said Dees’ work has repeatedly shown her commitment to new cultural perspectives that remap art and culture across the Americas.

“(Dees) will not only complement cutting-edge engagements with the arts on campus, but also challenge all of us to think more expansively about how questions of colonialism, geography and power at once shape and deform our experiences of the visual world,” Copeland said in a news release. 

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