|Untitled, by Suellen Rocca
Right away I learned something, before even getting through the museum lobby. The six Chicago artists who formed the colorful 1960s art movement, listed on the banner—Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum—did not, as I had always thought, include Ed Paschke. I don't know where I got the impression that he was part of the group; he just seemed to fit, I suppose, along with Roger Brown, who wasn't involved either.
I vaguely knew about the Hairy Who? artists, glanced here and there over the years. Looking at so many of their paintings and drawings, not to mention comic books, chairs, posters, and all the other self-promotion. I couldn't help feeling ... I'm going to hell for this ... underwhelmed. The artwork had a sensibility that echoed everything else of the era, from "Yellow Submarine" to late Salvador Dali, all amateurish and derivative and slapdash. The little glyphs and hollow-head doodles made me think these people were the best high school artists ever.
That's too harsh. Gladys Nilsson had a certain children's book illustration whimsey, a Richard Lindner-y quality that I admired, or tried to. And I could see Paschke's lucha libre wrestlers and static-wavy TV images prefaced in Karl Wirsum's work. This moment really is the only coherent artistic movement to come out of Chicago, which doesn't elevate so much as condemn us. Maybe we really are the hicks those New Yorkers consider us to be.
As I moved through the galleries—it's a big show, on two floors of the Art Institute—I started to suspect that perhaps the true genius of the group was not in any one image, even in any one artist, but how these half dozen managed to band together and, collectively, puff their talents, such as they were, into something celebrated half a century later. That takes doing. That's certainly art, of a sort.
Hairy Who? 1966-1969 runs through Jan. 6, 2019.
|The Great War of the Wonder Woman, by Gladys Nilsson