If you have not yet had the opportunity to see the “Blockbuster” exhibition at Northwestern University’s Block Gallery, “William Blake and the Age of Aquarius”, you should definitely go before it closes on March 11, 2018. This is a must see exhibition. More about the William Blake and the Age of Aquarius Exhibition
(Note:–Closed for Year-End Holidays – Friday December 22, 2017 through January 8, 2018.)
I was so enthralled the first time that I explored this exhibition, that I returned with visitors from out of town who were equally impressed. There is something for everyone. Nostalgia for those who remember the 60’s and a history lesson for those much younger. This is a multimedia presentation with lots of special rooms, movies, original works of William Blake, works that were inspired by his paintings, poetry, philosophy and life style.
With winter here and 2017 nearly gone, reflecting on the events of just over 50 years ago may shed some light on our experiences today. Note that: “In the summer of 1967, more than 100,000 young people streamed into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, as well as Greenwich Village in New York and Old Town in Chicago, to celebrate peace, love, and music. Many of the artists, poets and musicians associated with the “Summer of Love” embraced the work of British visionary poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827) and used it as a compass to drive their own political and personal evolutions. Opening at the Block Museum in the fall of 2017, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius will explore the impact of British visionary poet and artist William Blake on a broad range of American artists in the post-World War II period. This exhibition will be the first to consider how Blake’s art and ideas were absorbed and filtered through American visual artists from the end of World War II through the 1960s. Blake became for many a model of non-conformity and self-expression, and was seen as an artist who engaged in social and political resistance in his time.”
There is a video with footage gathered from news broadcasts. The eleven year old in our group sat mesmerized watching history unfold.
The strength of William Blake and the Age of Aquarius is the way it draws parallels between Blake’s time and mid-twentieth-century America, touching on such issues as political repression, social transformation, and struggles for civil rights. It is fascinating to observe the ways in which Blake’s protests against the conventions of his day were inspirational for many young Americans disillusioned by perceived cultural tendencies of social uniformity, materialism and consumerism, racial and gender discrimination, and environmental degradation. This was a generation that sought in Blake a model of independence, imagination, and resistance to authority. In this exhibition American artists for whom Blake was an important inspiration includes more than 130 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, films, and posters, as well as original Blake prints and illuminated books from collections throughout the United States. Some of the artists and musicians as diverse as Diane Arbus, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Stanley William Hayter, Jimi Hendrix, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Maurice Sendak, The Doors and The Fugs are featured, united by the influence of Blake on their work. It is surprising to see the full range of artists and memorabilia available in this exhibition.
If you are trying to find a special gift for the Aquarian and/or Blakean on your holiday list, there is a stunningly illustrated look at how Blake’s radical vision influenced artists of the Beat generation.
The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University is proud to partner with Princeton University Press on the exhibition catalog William Blake and the Age of Aquarius, edited by exhibition curator Stephen F. Eisenman, with contributions by Mark Crosby, Elizabeth Ferrell, Jacob Henry Leveton, W. J. T. Mitchell, and John P. Murphy. The catalog, a companion to the current Block Museum exhibition, explores how, some two hundred years after his birth, the anti-establishment values embodied in Blake’s art and poetry became a model for artists of the American counterculture.
Photos: B. Keer
Blake’s Diverse Influence
Blake’s art, poetry and political ideas had unique currency in postwar America, unifying artists working across various media. The exhibition brings together artists who used Blake’s lyrics as titles, experimented with printing techniques and innovative combinations of image and text and cited Blake’s worldview in letters, diaries and essays. Artists and musicians as diverse as Diane Arbus, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Stanley William Hayter, Jimi Hendrix, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Maurice Sendak, The Doors and The Fugs are featured, united by the influence of Blake on their work. An early section of the exhibition focuses on artists working in the mid-1940s who discovered Blake’s unique voice in such poems as “The Tyger” and “The Shepherd” and drew inspiration for their own work from his ideas.
The exhibition is curated by Northwestern Professor of Art History Stephen F. Eisenman in consultation with Corinne Granof, Curator of Academic Programs, Block Museum of Art. It will be on view at the Block Museum from September 23, 2017-March 11, 2018. The exhibition is supported in part by the Terra Foundation for America Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, Robert Lehman Foundation, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and The Alumnae of Northwestern University. The related publication is made possible in part by a gift from Elizabeth and Todd Warnock to the Department of Art History at Northwestern University.