Access and Inspiration: Katy Kim on the power of in-person research at The Block Study Center

The Block’s Eloise W. Martin Study Center (EMSC) is a classroom inside the museum that offers an intimate setting for the study and use of artwork in The Block’s collection. Katy Kim (Art History and Political Science ’23) reflects on her experience setting up a private visit to one of Northwestern’s most unique research centers.

This past Winter, I had the opportunity to view several objects I selected from the Block Museum’s extensive collection in the Eloise W. Martin Study Center. One of the most unique resources on campus, the Study Center serves as the place where classes, researchers, and students can intimately engage with artwork through curator-led teaching and close-looking sessions. 

As a Block Museum Student Associate and Art History student, I’ve had the privilege of being in the Study Center several times, though I’d never realized that students can request to see specific artworks in the collection, bandwidth willing. There’s something special about being able to look at an artwork in person—I always find myself better able to appreciate an artwork’s medium, size, and how colors come together and interact with my eye. During a memorable class visit to the Study Center, Associate Curator of Collections Essi Rönkkö selected a number of prints where early modern artists used different printmaking techniques like woodcut, etching, and engraving. My class, an Introduction to European Art course, viewed several of these prints, and then was asked to identify which technique each artist had used based on what we’d learned. The experience helped me appreciate the full extent of the Block Museum’s diverse collection, and understand how interacting with these works in person could activate my academic studies. 

The experience helped me appreciate the full extent of the Block Museum’s diverse collection, and understand how interacting with these works in person could activate my academic studies. 

Katy Kim (Art History and Political Science ’23)

With over 6,000 artworks in its holdings, the Block Museum’s collection spans prints, drawings, photographs, and computer-generated art. These artworks can be accessed via the Block Museum Collection Database, where visitors can search the collection by artist, title, keyword, or view rotating curated collection highlights. Inspired by my visit, I created my own mini selection of works, and after some back and forth with Collections and Exhibitions Coordinator Joe Scott, I had an appointment scheduled to view the five artworks I’d selected. 

The first was a Bridget Riley print I’d wanted to see up close from different vantage points. Earlier in the year, I’d visited an Art Institute of Chicago exhibition on Bridget Riley’s drawings, and I loved how her works created disorienting optical illusions through fully embracing colors’ surprising interactions with each other. Despite the spring-like palette, and the uniformity of the intersecting lines, the print’s title was Print for the Chicago 8 (1971) from Riley’s portfolio ‘Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness.’ The title’s reference to a specific political history prompted me to consider broader questions of abstraction, process, and legibility. 

I chose the rest of the artworks less directionally. Instead, I meandered through the Block’s Collection and simply selected what spoke to me. The second print Twilight has the Soft Glow of Old Painting (1898) from the album Amour (1898) by Maurice Denis, captured my attention because of the delicate textures and poetic title. I appreciated how the prints on the figure’s dress echo that of the flora blossoming behind and around them, and unify the scene. Along with the Riley print, I selected another Op-art print: New Glory (1975) by Richard Anuszkiewicz. The print had an almost waxed finish I didn’t expect. 

I also viewed Event Horizon, Exit-Entry (ca. 1985) by Othello Anderson. During my research, I was disappointed to find less information on Anderson and their other works. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed inspecting the print in person, and I noticed the faint crimson lines that stretch beyond and behind the horizontal gradient bisecting the composition. Informed by the title, I understood a seeming collapse of space, time, and perspective created by this ‘horizon.’ Where was this beam coming from? The horizon of what? Where were we situated as viewers, if anywhere at all? 

The last print I viewed was Imperfect Pearls in the Ether of Infinite Labor (1997) by Mel Chin. I read more on the artist’s story underlying the creation of this print on Chin’s website, and peering closely, I could just distinguish the faint whorls created by the printers’ fingertips in the ‘pearls.’ Finally, throughout my visit in the Study Center, I noticed how Collections and Exhibitions Coordinator Joe Scott acted as a steward of these works. When a piece of dust fell on the Othello Anderson print, Joe took a small brush to flick it away. During my appointment, I was free to wander back and forth between the pieces at my leisure. The Block’s collections are extensive, and their care requires immense knowledge, expertise, and care. I’m so grateful for the privilege to spend time and engage personally with these artworks in the Block Museum Study Center.

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