Meet Alisa Swindell, Curatorial Research Assistant

In Spring of 2019 The Block was pleased to welcome Alisa Swindell, as a curatorial research assistant focusing on an upcoming exhibition in Winter 2021. We were pleased to sit down with Alisa to talk about her teaching, research expertise, and work here at the museum.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you find your way to art history and curatorial work?

I am a product of the culture wars. I saw art under attack and wanted to help in a way that seemed appropriate to my skills and interests. I originally thought that I wanted to own a gallery, but as time went on I realized that research, interpretation, and education through presentation and programing were what really excited me so curatorial work without the sales aspect seemed a good fit.  

What particularly interests you about working within an art museum context?

Museums hold a great deal of potential to bring academic professionalism and community involvement together in ways that few other art world institutions can. I also enjoy approaching art from a multi-disciplinary view and art museums, especially in their current evolution, provide ample opportunities to work with art directly while allowing me to bring my diverse interests and knowledge to my curatorial work.

Can you tell us about your personal research and previous projects?

The primary focus of my research is on the history of photography and how race and sexuality fit into that history. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate and my dissertation looks a select group of photographers and work they produced or that became influential during the height of the AIDS crisis and those artworks can be seen as helping to maintain and create notions of desire. In the last few years I have assisted with an exhibition on Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison at the Art Institute of Chicago and curated a show on LGBT, people of color in Cook County.  

What will be some of your focuses here at The Block?

I have been hired specifically to work on an upcoming exhibition on anti-Black violence in art and culture over about a 100 year period starting in the early years of the twentieth century. My position is made possible through a grant from the Warhol Foundation, awarded to The Block in support of the research needed to allow the show to explore the depths, importance, and continuing influence of this imagery.

What drew you to the Block Museum mission, exhibitions, and collection?

Living on the North side of Chicago I have been a long-time visitor of The Block and have always appreciated the variety of exhibitions and programming the museum offers. So this opportunity to work on a show that is in-line with my research interest at this institution was very exciting.

What museum exhibitions or programs (outside the Block) have inspired you lately?

I just attended Art EXPO and saw new work and was introduced to new artists that I am eager to learn more about. The Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Art Institute both held exhibitions of recent projects by Dawoud Bey that were very inspirational.

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