Hairy Who at the Art Institute of Chicago

Hairy Who at the Art Institute of Chicago
Photo collage: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Trendsetters in the 1960's the Hairy Who return in a 50 year anniversary celebration of their groundbreaking work

Hairy Who? An engrossing exhibition now running at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) through January 6, 2019, looks back 50 years at the work of six young--at the time--Chicago based artists.

The boldly unconventional artists known as Hairy Who were inspired by the city’s vernacular, cultural, and political fabric of the times. Their groundbreaking works were first showcased at the Hyde Park Art Center in the late 1960's.

From there the Hairy Who mounted six uncanny exhibitions—three in Chicago, and one each in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. 

The group included Jim Falconer (b. 1943), Art Green (b.1941), Gladys Nilsson (b. 1940), Jim Nutt (b. 1938), Suellen Rocca (b. 1943) , and Karl Wirsum (b. 1939) each of whom transformed popular imagery into highly personal and technically virtuosic artworks that were different from anything at a time when Pop Art and Minimalism dominated the American art scene.

Self-organized and self-named, the Hairy Who’s distinctive style permanently transformed the cultural landscape of Chicago art.

Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. Hairy Who, 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.

Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. Hairy Who, 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.

The AIC exhibition features painted and linoleum-covered walls and display cases filled with collectibles along with large-scale paintings, sculptures, prints, watercolors, and drawings, works on paper, posters, comics, and archival materials augment and contextualize the artists’ creative process and working methods--many of which are presented publicly for the first time.

The Hairy Who?

Amidst the uncertainty of the Vietnam War, societal examination of race and gender, and a climate of political unrest, Hairy Who’s inventive, experimental art and exhibition practices emerged in this pivotal moment in American history, garnering international recognition and influencing subsequent generations of artists.

Jim Nutt. Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good, 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. © Jim Nutt.

Jim Nutt. Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good, 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. © Jim Nutt

“We’re thrilled to put a spotlight on these artists who are so particular to Chicago,” said the exhibition’s co-curator Mark Pascale, Janet and Craig Duchossois Curator of Prints and Drawings. “Hairy Who formed in the crucible of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the artists studied works in the museum’s collection. In a way, it’s a bit of a homecoming.” 

The exhibition, co-organized by Mark Pascale, Janet and Craig Duchossois Curator of Prints and Drawings, and Thea Liberty Nichols, Researcher in Prints and Drawings, with Ann Goldstein, Deputy Director and Chair and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, is accompanied by a generously illustrated 256-page catalogue exploring the history and significance of Hairy Who.

Hairy Who? 1966-1969
Through January 6, 2019
Galleries 124–27 and 268–73

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