How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s review

5 out of 5 stars
How Chicago! Imagists 1960s & 70s review
Gladys Nilsson, A Cold Mouth, 1968 © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

While the world was patting New York, LA and London on the back for inventing pop art and conceptualism back in the late ’60s, a group of artists in Chicago were too busy having the time of their lives to care. The Chicago Imagists are criminally under-known – a bunch of friends turning acid trips and comic strips into vivid, hilarious, ridiculous painting – but this exhibition should go some way towards changing that.

The ins and outs of the various groups involved in the Imagists are a bit of a mindmelter. They were separated into The Hairy Who, The Monster Roster, The Non-plussed Some and countless other confusing denominations, all of whom took part in group shows in Chicago. Forget it: what matters is that the artists that came out of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at that time created work that reflected their time better than pretty much anyone. This was art that embodied the brutal rollicking whirlpool of post-Summer of Love America. The wars, the anger, the drugs; they’re all exposed here in this show in gruesome cartoonish glory.

The main take-away is that the Imagists created pop art without the po-faced conceptualism and consumerist drive. Instead, they used garish colours, cartoon imagery and rib-nudging humour to warp, twist and mutate everyday American life. And it’s amazing.

Barbara Rossi creates swirling, amorphous semi-abstract figures, like hyper-coloured humans made of stuffed tights; Ed Paschke’s luminous, radioactive portraits of freaks glow with lime and yellow toxicity; Jim Nutt’s over-stylised, colourful creeps on crystal-clear plexiglass are perfectly dumb; Karl Wirsum’s swooping, wavy figures of a million colours are terrifying; Roger Brown’s neat architecturalism is a welcome bit of calm.

It’s all so fun, so funny, so free, so different to everything we think mid-century art is meant to be. I’d take countless hours of this over yet another painfully serious show of dour art by artists we all already know. Chuck your soup cans and Marilyn Monroes in the bin: the Imagists are where it's at.


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