Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Hairy Who?

Untitled, by Suellen Rocca
     My intention was to take the bus from 900 N. Michigan to Union Station Monday afternoon. But as we passed The Art Institute, I saw the Hairy Who? show had opened, so hopped off, figuring I'd catch a later train.
      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


  1. Just so happened to have screened the Hairy Who documentary on Prime yesterday. There were three "groups" of Chicago Imagists in that era, and Paschke was in one called Nonplussed Some. Some also participated in a show called Marriage Chicago Style. Don Baum started showing them in these groups at the Hyde Park Arts Center in 1966. It was Chicago. Where else were they gonna show? Like any movement, I prefer some artists to others, and some works to others. Roger Brown is the most powerful in my view, but I also like the odd Paschke. It was indeed a work of art in itself the way they marketed themselves, & Jim Nutt in particular was shown all over the globe. According to the movie, many later regretted being lumped together like that but it seems to me it did them all a lot of good. btw I see Tony Fitzpatrick's work as coming along in that line of Surrealism.

  2. I'm just naive enough to consider self promotion tacky and tend to associate such with people like the yellow-haired guy who's always talking about how great everything that he touches turns out. Won't the world search you out if you invent the best mousetrap or create the best art? Sober reflection says, "No." Or at least the world will take its own sweet time in recognizing excellence. And what the hell is it worth to be honored after you're dead and buried?


  3. My first wife was a painter and it was through her that I met Ed Paschke in the early Eighties. I barely remember him, which leads me to believe that I was probably not all that impressed. At least, not the way she was. She built him up beforehand as being something really important and special. I probably would have used the word "meh"...but it hadn't been invented yet.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.