In 1980, distinguished art collectors and benefactors Mary and Leigh Block donated funds to Northwestern University for the construction of an art exhibition venue. In recognition of their gift, the University named the changing exhibition space the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery. As other Northwestern departments transferred artworks to its care, the Gallery also started an art collection that has since grown to 5,000 pieces through donations and purchases.
In recognition of its growing collection and its expanding programming, the Gallery became the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art in 1998. The Block embarked on a major reconstruction project in 1999 and reopened in a new facility in September of 2000. Designed by acclaimed Chicago architect Dirk Lohan (the grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), and substantially funded by a generous gift from businessman, lawyer, and philanthropist Paul Leffmann, the glass, steel and limestone structure tripled the size of the original facility.
Today, a significant portion of the building is devoted to temporary exhibition and educational spaces — the Main Gallery, Alsdorf Gallery, and Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery and Classroom — while the Theo Leffmann Gallery displays the textile work of artist Theo Leffmann.The Eloise W. Martin Study Center offers a comfortable environment for viewing objects from the Museum’s collection by appointment.
The building also includes the 150-seat Pick-Laudati Auditorium, which accommodates film screenings, lectures, symposia and classes.
Who Were Mary and Leigh Block?Leigh Block (1905–87), an executive with the Chicago-based Inland Steel Company, had served as chairman of the board at the Art Institute of Chicago. His wife, Mary Lasker Block (1904–81), who had been a vice president at the Chicago advertising firm of Lord and Thomas, founded the Women’s Board at the Art Institute and had been a director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Their art collection was the first private Midwestern collection to be shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.