Renewed Appreciation for Chicago Imagists

October 13, 2017 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

The Chicago Imagists—whose fanciful, surreal and dreamlike works make up the core of the Elmhurst College Art Collection—are receiving new recognition at home and abroad.

  • The Prada Foundation’s museum in Milan will present an exhibit, “Famous Artists from Chicago, 1965–1975,” featuring works by Suellen Rocca, curator and director of exhibits at the College, and eight other artists. For the exhibit, which opens October 20, the museum is borrowing three important paintings from the Elmhurst collection.
  • Meanwhile, Rocca received a grant for a full-day symposium at the College in December 2018, “The Figure, Humor and the Chicago Imagists.” The program is part of the Terra Foundation for American Art’s 2018 Art Design Chicago initiative to explore the city’s art and design legacy with more than 25 exhibits and hundreds of events next year.
  • Also as part of Art Design Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago is planning an exhibit on the Hairy Who, a group of six Imagists, including Rocca, whose works in the 1960s challenged prevailing social mores and concepts of gender and sexuality.

“This is major recognition and very exciting,” Rocca said. “And I get to be involved, both as an artist and curator.”

Rocca will travel to Milan for the opening of the Fondazione Prada show, which the museum said is “focused on the employment of a painting style characterized by political commitment, figurative narratives and radical graphics, and therefore rejected by mainstream New York culture–which was more interested in the abstract and impersonal dimensions of art.”

For the show, Elmhurst loaned the museum three of its most important works: “Cobmaster” by Ed Paschke (1975), “Glimpsed” by Christina Ramberg (1975) and “See Seven Cities” by Roger Brown (1971).

A Fresh Local Exploration in 2018

Rocca learned in June that she would receive an $18,445 grant from the Terra Foundation and Richard H. Driehaus Foundation to support her symposium, “The Figure, Humor and the Chicago Imagists” scheduled for Dec. 16, 2018, at the College. It will explore works by the Chicago Imagists, specifically how they used humor in depicting the human figure. The day will include a presentation by New York art critic and editor Dan Nadel and a tour of the collection at the A.C. Buehler Library.

The symposium will complement the Art Institute’s special exhibit on the Hairy Who—Rocca and five other artists—who exhibited together between 1966 and 1969. The Art Institute focused this exhibit on the Hairy Who because their contributions aren’t fully examined, according to exhibition curator Mark Pascale.

The six members of the Hairy Who studied together at the School of the Art Institute and coined the name in 1966. They were followed by other Chicago artists who exhibited together: “They were all lumped together as Imagists, and the name stuck,” Pascale said. Hairy Who members staked out their own identities in paintings that were at times whimsical, biting, outrageous, cerebral or sophomoric, he added.

A challenge for this exhibit is finding works that were exhibited at Hairy Who shows in Hyde Park, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., during the late 1960s. Art Institute researcher and exhibit co-organizer Thea Liberty Nichols is charged with tracking down the works dispersed among private collectors, galleries and museums. The Art Institute hopes to procure 100 artworks for the exhibit, which will run between September 1, 2018, and January 6, 2019.

Elmhurst College’s “The Figure, Humor and the Chicago Imagists” symposium and the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit are part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

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