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Wangechi Mutu transforms galleries with magnetic artworks and installations
Wangechi Mutu, Yo Mama, 2003. Ink, mica flakes, pressure-sensitive synthetic polymer sheeting, cut-and-pasted printed paper, painted paper, and synthetic polymer paint on paper; overall: 59 1/8 x 85 inches (150.2 x 215.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift, 2511.2005.a-b. © Wangechi Mutu. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York. Photo by David Allison.

EVANSTON, ILL.- Full-scale figurative collages, gigantic felted trees and an immersive environment will transform Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art this fall when it presents “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey.”

Organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the exhibition is the first U.S. survey for Wangechi Mutu, a contemporary African artist and sculptor who has achieved great global acclaim for her works in a diverse range of artistic media.

The comprehensive exhibition featuring her thought-provoking and rich imagery opens Sept. 19 and runs through Dec. 7 at the Block Museum, the show’s sole Midwest region venue.

Mutu is best known for large-scale collages depicting powerful hybrid female figures in lush, otherworldly landscapes. Many of her most iconic works are included in “A Fantastic Journey,” which features more than 50 works from the mid-1990s to the present.

The New York Times describes the exhibit as “magnetic…visually ravishing” art that is “at what has to be some kind of peak moment.”

The exhibit includes rarely seen early works, new creations, sketches and the artist’s first-ever animated video, titled “The End of eating Everything,” featuring singer/songwriter Santigold as a mysterious part human, part cyborg protagonist whose monstrous appetite evokes critical societal issues involving human consumption.

The artist and members of her studio will transform the Block into an environmental installation that draws viewers directly into Mutu’s vision, including a monumental wall drawing made of materials such as soil from Kenya, the country where she was born. It promises to be one of the most ambitious presentations of work by a contemporary artist ever seen at the Block.

“Wangechi Mutu’s work marks a new direction for our museum,” says Block Director Lisa Corrin. “We will exhibit art across time and cultures and focus on innovative approaches to the presentation of art, such as Mutu’s transformation of our main gallery from a white box into a mysterious forest.”

Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and has lived in New York since the early 1990s. Her work explores issues of gender, race, war, globalization, colonialism and the eroticization of the black female body. She creates mysterious composite figures pieced together with human, animal, machine and monster parts. She often combines found materials and magazine cutouts with sculpted and painted imagery, drawing from sources as diverse as international politics, African ethnography, fashion, eroticism and science fiction to produce an Afrofuturist vision.

“Wangechi Mutu’s work explores the complexity of African identity in the United States, where it is often oversimplified,” said Kathleen Bickford Berzock, associate director of curatorial affairs at the Block Museum.

“This topic is incredibly relevant at Northwestern, which is home to an active, longstanding African studies program and the globally recognized Herskovits Africana Library,” she said. “More broadly, Mutu’s work moves beyond any single identity and speaks universally about the complexity of identity and its representation through space and time.”

In presenting the work of rising star Mutu, the Block continues along a dynamic trajectory. Last year’s widely acclaimed “Left Front” exhibition was called “pioneering” by The Wall Street Journal and “groundbreaking” by the Chicago Sun-Times, showcasing how the Block has become a vital part of the arts landscape in Chicago. With “A Fantastic Journey,” the museum reinforces its commitment to presenting global, contemporary art and programming that engages the community with the important issues of our time.

“As a University art museum, we are in a unique position to offer encounters with art through our exhibitions and programs that have a distinct texture,” said Corrin. “Innovation and creativity are core values for a major research university, and they abound at Northwestern in every field of study, from engineering and medicine to journalism and law. Shaping opportunities for the broad public to experience an artist’s creative processes, as well as making unexpected connections between art and other fields of study, is a significant part of our engagement efforts.”

“A Fantastic Journey” opened at the Nasher Museum in July 2013 and has since traveled nationally to the Brooklyn Museum, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. The Block is its final venue. The exhibition is curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum. At the Block, Berzock and Dan Silverstein, senior manager of exhibitions and collections, have collaborated closely with the artist on the Block’s unique presentation of the exhibition.

“Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” is accompanied by a richly illustrated 160-page, full-color catalogue that will be available for purchase at the Block. The catalogue includes many images that highlight the most important and iconic works Mutu has created since the mid-1990s, as well as illustrating new collages, drawings, videos and site-specific installations. It offers an intimate look into Mutu’s sketchbooks and includes an interview with the artist conducted by exhibition curator Schoonmaker. Essays by Schoonmaker, art historian Kristine Stiles and Greg Tate, critic and musician, are paired with an illustrated chronology of Mutu’s work.

“Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” is made possible by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Major support is provided by Marilyn M. Arthur, the Ford Foundation, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Katherine Thorpe and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Additional generous support was provided by Duke University’s Council for the Arts; Gladstone Gallery, New York; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

Support for the presentation at the Block Museum has been provided by the Diane and Craig Solomon Contemporary Art Fund and an anonymous donor.

Additional generous support has been provided by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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