Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

The Block Museum of Art is a free public art museum located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The Block Museum was established in 1980 when Chicago art collectors Mary (daughter of Albert Lasker) and Leigh B. Block (former vice president of Inland Steel Company), donated funds to Northwestern University for the construction of an art exhibition venue.[1] In recognition of their gift, the University named the changing exhibition space the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery. The original conception of the museum was modeled on the German kunsthalle tradition, with no permanent collection, and a series of changing temporary exhibits. However, the Block Museum soon began to acquire a permanent collection as the University transferred many of its art pieces to the museum.[2] In recognition of its growing collection and its expanding programming, the Gallery became the American Alliance of Museums accredited Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art in 1998. The Block embarked on a major reconstruction project in 1999 and reopened in a new facility in September 2000.

Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University
Location within Chicago metropolitan area
Location40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, Illinois
United States
Coordinates42.0524°N 87.6727°W / 42.0524; -87.6727
DirectorLisa Graziose Corrin (Since January, 2012)

The Block Museum is dedicated to presenting programs and exhibitions that resonate with the curriculum, research and teaching areas of Northwestern University and are relevant to student, local and regional audiences. The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art enriches teaching and learning on the campuses of Northwestern University and in the communities of their surrounding regions by presenting art across time, cultures, and media; convening interdisciplinary discussions in which art is a springboard for exploring issues and ideas and collecting art that supports the Northwestern University curriculum. The museum also commissions new work by artists to foster connections between artists and the public through the creative process. Each year, the Block mounts exhibitions; organizes and hosts lectures, symposia, and workshops involving artists, scholars, curators, and critics; and screens classic and contemporary films at its in-house cinema.

The Block Museum has strong partnerships with museums worldwide including with the Yale University Art Gallery, Princeton University Press, The Nasher Art Museum at Duke University, the Grey Art Gallery at NYU, and the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. The Block often collaborates with these museums on exhibitions that travel across the country and the world.

Museum building

The original museum building was constructed in 1980 and was designed by Chicago architecture firm Loebl Schlossman & Hackl. The Block's outdoor sculpture garden was established in 1989.

The Block embarked on a major reconstruction project in 1999 and reopened in a new facility in September 2000, with a design by Chicago architectural firm Lohan Associates.[3] Designed by acclaimed Chicago architect Dirk Lohan (the grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), and substantially funded by a generous gift from businessman, lawyer, and philanthropist Paul Leffmann, the glass, steel and limestone structure tripled the size of the original facility. The 2000 expansion tripled the museum's gallery size.[2]

In 2015, the Museum launched a public lobby lounge known as The Block Spot, equipped with Wi-Fi, seating, study spaces and chalkboard walls. Block Spot was created with James Geier, president and co-founder of Chicago’s award-winning 555 International, and with input from undergraduates in industrial designer and adjunct lecturer John Hartman’s industrial design projects class at the Segal Design Institute, based at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.[4]

Block Cinema

The museum's Pick-Laudati Auditorium is home to Block Cinema, a longstanding film program featuring international, classic and arthouse cinema. The selection of films at Block Cinema is curated in part by students in the Northwestern University Film and Projection Society.

Museum Collections

The Block Museum houses a rich permanent collection of nearly 5,000 artworks. The collection is strong in prints, drawings, and photographs by modern and contemporary Western artists, including Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Honoré Daumier and Andy Warhol. In recent years the Block has shifted its collection focus and new acquisitions have increased the diversity of media the museum houses and the international array of artists it represents. Recent gifts have included videos, sculpture, drawings, photographs and installations by internationally known contemporary artists including Paul Chan, Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems.[5]

The Block Museum collection can be searched online. To view objects from the collection the public can make an appointment in The Eloise W. Martin Study Center.[6]

Collection highlights


  1. Mary Lasker Block Obituary, New York Times
  2. History of the Block Museum
  3. NU Facilities - Project history Archived 2008-05-19 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "The Block Spot: Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  5. "Block Museum Receives Major Gift of Contemporary Art: Northwestern University News". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  6. "Eloise W. Martin Study Center: Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art". Retrieved 2016-07-13.

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