The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston will present a major exhibition on British poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827) and the 20th century counterculture artists he inspired.  

The first exhibition to consider the impact of Blake on American artists from the end of World War II through 1970, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius features more than 150 paintings, drawings, photographs, films, posters and other medium from the '50s, '60s and '70s and more than 50 rare Blake engravings and pages from illuminated books which have been loaned from major collections, including The Rosenbach in Philadelphia and the Yale Center for British Art.

In his own lifetime, William Blake was a relatively unknown, eccentric and unconventional artist with a strong political bent. From the 1940s through the 1960s, some 200 years after his birth, Blake became a model of non-conformity, self-expression and social and political resistance.  In the summer of 1967, more than 100,000 young people streamed into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to celebrate peace, love, music and mind-altering drugs.  Many of the artists, poets and musicians associated with the “Summer of Love’s” anti-war sentiment embraced Blake’s work and used it as a compass to drive their own political and personal evolutions.

​The exhibition is curated by critic, activist, and Northwestern Professor of Art History Stephen F. Eisenman in consultation with Corinne Granof, curator of academic programs at the Block. William Blake and the Age of Aquarius will feature both well-known and under-recognized American artists who cited Blake as an inspiration, and present their work alongside Blake’s. 

“This exhibition, the first to explore William Blake’s impact on 20th-century popular culture, is populated by beats, hippies, poets, rockers and artistic voices of the counterculture.  Blake’s protests against the conventions and repressions of his own society became a model for many young Americans, particularly those disillusioned by social conformity, consumerism, racial and gender discrimination, environmental degradation and the Vietnam War,” notes Eisenman.

This is also the first major museum exhibition to present Blake’s prints and illuminated poetry such as “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” side by side with objects from 20th-century art and popular culture. This approach illuminates new trans-historical connections between these periods.

“This exhibition plays to Block’s strengths, which has a history of placing art in a broad historic and cultural context by exhibiting together art, archives, popular and material culture,” said Lisa Corrin, the museum’s Ellen Philips Katz Director. “This approach also exemplifies Block’s mission as a teaching museum, and the University-wide emphasis on cross-disciplinary inquiry.”

William Blake and the Age of Aquarius will build upon the Block Museum’s recent focus on art and culture of the 1960s undertaken with A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s, meant to expand understanding of a unique facet of mid-20th century counterculture, as well as make a contribution to existing scholarship in the fields of art history and American cultural studies. 

​William Blake and the Age of Aquarius will run Sept. 23, 2017, through March 11, 2018, at the Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern University’s Evanston, Illinois campus.

Block Museum's William Blake and the Age of Aquarius to Explore Blake's Influence on the "Summer of Love" and the Counterculture it Inspired

Artist William Blake, oil on canvas by artist Thomas Phillips.