Meet the Chicago Imagists This Fall

Gladys Nilsson, 1966.  Photo by: William Arsenault.  Courtesy of Pentimenti Productions.

The Chicago Imagists were a dynamic and varied group of representational artists who first hit the scene in the 1960s, emerging from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Their vibrant aesthetics drew from commercial and outsider art, Surrealism, and Pop Art—while offering a perspective that was completely of, by, and for Chicago. The group broke the boundaries of visual art movements defined by their contemporaries on either coast, and the prominence of female artists among their ranks also set this creative cohort apart.

Of the many artists who fall under the Imagists label, the groundbreaking Hairy Who collective stands out as one of the most influential. On September 26, Hairy Who? 1966–1969, the first-ever major survey exhibition devoted to the group, opens at the Art Institute of Chicago.


Karl Wirsum, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund, 1969.248

Presented on the 50th anniversary of their final Chicago show, it features key works as well as archival ephemera contextualizing the group’s creative process, working methods, and the social and political milieu in which they made their art. Hairy Who? 1966-1969 runs through January 6, 2019.

The Figure and the Chicago Imagists: Selections from the Elmhurst College Art Collection is on view now through December 30 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. This exhibition features the Elmhurst College Art Collection, focused on artists working in Chicago between about 1950 and the present. It’s curated by Suellen Rocca, one of the original members of the Hairy Who and Curator and Director of Exhibitions at Elmhurst College.

In New York, 3-D Doings: The Imagist Object in Chicago Art, 1964–1980 examines the little-known sculptural work and dimensional painting made by the Chicago Imagists during the early years of their practice. As the first in-depth exploration of the overall affinity of Imagist artists for objects, the exhibition features artists who worked individually to craft unique approaches, but who shared key influences, such as Surrealism and the Surrealist objects. Now on view at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York through January 6, 2019.

Break A Rule: Ed Paschke’s Art and Teaching is also on view now at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. Ed Paschke is celebrated as one of the leading Chicago Imagists, but less is known of his almost 30 years teaching art and artists at Northwestern University. This show celebrates his legacy as an educator, with artworks by Paschke alongside his teaching material from the Northwestern University Archives, and generous loans from Marc Paschke and Sharon Paschke. Now on view through December 9.

Robert Lostutter is an Imagist whose approach has evolved over the past 30 years, to figuration that hybridizes the human form with birds and flowers. This exhibition presents a new series from Lostutter’s ongoing works in graphite and watercolor, unveiling a new strain of his personages. Opens November 2 at Corbett vs. Dempsey in Chicago.

In addition to these exhibitions, an abundance of Imagists-related talks, film screenings, tours, and more are on the horizon—reaching from Chicago to Minneapolis to New York.

September 27: Screening: Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists

Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

October 10: Opening Conversation - Break a Rule: Ed Paschke’s Art and Teaching

Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston

November 1, November 30: Lecture: Hairy Who? 1966-1969

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

November 3: Chicago's Own: The Imagists (Tour)

Departs from the Welcome Center at the Chicago Cultural Center

November 16: How Place Shapes Artists (Discussion)

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

November 17: Chicago's Art in Private Spaces (Tour)

Begins at the University Club, Chicago

December 6: Film & Discussion: Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

December 9: Art Speaks: Chicago Imagists, Early Urban Art (Discussion)

Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago

December 16: The Figure, Humor and the Chicago Imagists (Full-day Symposium)

Illinois Hall at Elmhurst College and Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst

For further reading, see the recent fall arts preview article in Crain’s Chicago Business, “Chicago Imagists Star This Fall.”



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