The Block Museum was pleased to close out 2019 with some exciting press accolades. While the exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time opened in January 2019, its reverberations had lasting effects in Chicago and throughout the art world. The groundbreaking exhibition was include on two prominent year end lists .
The Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Johnson previewed the exhibition in January 2019. [See “The richest man ever was not named Gates or Bezos; he was king of Mali in the Middle Ages” (January 27, 2019.) The critic remembered the exhibition in his year-end roundup, naming it – number 3 in the city after the Art Institute’s retrospective of Andy Warhol’s work and the blockbuster “Hamilton: The Exhibition.”
Far more ambitious than what you typically find in even the best university museums, this Northwestern museum exhibition told the story of the richest man ever to walk the Earth, the 14th-century Mali king Mansa Musa, and of a rich African culture largely written out of history. Ancient pottery fragments, fully realized metal works and early maps and money helped tell an extraordinary, corrective story.Steve Johnson, “Best Chicago Museum Exhibitions of 2019” Chicago Tribune (December 18, 2020)
The international arts blog Hyperallergic also included Caravans of Gold on its year end list, counting the exhibition among the top 15 exhibitions of the year nationally. Hyperallergic is a leading voice in contemporary perspectives on art, culture, offering forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art in society. With over one million visitors monthly, Hyperallergic combines round-the-clock art world news coverage with insightful commentary. Critic Seph Rodney reviewed the exhibition early in its run (see “In Centering West Africa, an Exhibition Tells Another Story of the Medieval Period” (March 15, 2019). The timely nature of the exhibition and its aim to address a story long overlooked by art history stayed with the critic during his year end review.
The exhibition was carefully well researched, collaborative, and timely in making the ambitious claim that the medieval epoch should not primarily be envisioned through a European lens, but instead can be more fully understood by seeing the African continent as the fulcrum of worldwide development by it impelling cultural advance, and socioeconomic change. Through an exhaustive assembly of fragments and artifacts, supported by reams of scholarship (including the story of the richest man who ever lived) one sees that the 14th-century trade routes that crossed the Sahara Desert drove the movement of people, goods, and culture in that epoch. Museums should take on these kinds of insightful historical correctives more often.Seph Rodney, “Best of 2019: Our Top 20 United States Art Shows” Hyperallergic (December 12, 2019)