Quirky, artistically talented and a full participator of pleasure—one could easily describe French lithograph artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Northwestern students by the same words.
That’s no mistake: Northwestern students’ intellect and creativity hit the stage and the gallery this January. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, the Block Museum welcomed a full house to “An Evening with Toulouse-Lautrec,” a conversation and celebration of Toulouse-Lautrec Prints: Art at the Edges of Modernity, an exhibition curated by students in Professor S. Hollis Clayson’s undergraduate art history course, “Museums: The Fin de Siécle Poster.”
The artist himself was often considered an outsider, yet Lautrec garnered incredible popularity in mass cultures. Even today, he is one of the best-known visual artists in the United States and, arguably, the world. “Part of the modernity of Lautrec’s art is its edgy and complex love affair with the society of the debased and of the commercial,” says Prof. Clayson.
Students dove into this love affair and shared their curatorial process with a robust crowd before gallery tours and refreshments. Student-curator Kathryn Watts explored posters and prints destined for both public distribution and private display. “Lautrec’s body of work is riddled with contradictions,” she says.
Each student took on a single or set of works, and when students visited donors Irwin (Weinberg ’59) and Andra Press in October to select their pieces, the Presses felt a palpable excitement for the art at hand. “We’re immensely gratified that students and Block visitors will share our enthusiasm for this brilliant, unique artist,” Irwin Press says.
Community members and donors alike were delighted with student voices and gallery choices. “It was an incredible and unique opportunity to see what can be done,” Press says. “We learned so much from what the students did because they saw things we didn’t even notice.”
Confetti, celebrity, prostitution and printing technique—the grittier pleasures of Lautrec’s Paris find a fresh look in this exhibit through April 19. The Block Museum will continue pushing the edges of art through quarter-long programming. Find a full schedule of free public programs and Block Cinema screenings here.