AIC showcases the works of "master of the macabre" Ivan Albright

AIC showcases the works of "master of the macabre" Ivan Albright

 ”There are few paintings as alarming as those of Albright.’They upset with one blow the ramparts of our tastes, our affectivity, our aversions.”      French painter Jean Dubuffet

The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) is showcasing the works of Ivan Albright (1897-1983) on the 100th year anniversary of Albright’s premier at the Art Institute.

The exhibition “Ivan Albright: Flesh” features more than 30 works from the museum’s permanent collection. 

Known as “master of the macabre,”  ”the painter of horrors” and ”specialist in the repulsive,” Albright’s controversial works portray the body’s vulnerability to age especially in his detailed paintings of decaying flesh.

Starting with his 1928 painting, “Flesh,” the artist  urged himself to “make flesh more like flesh than ever has been made before; make flesh close, close, and closer, until you feel it.”

Ivan Albright. Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943/44. Gift of Ivan Albright. © The Art Institute of Chicago

Ivan Albright. Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943/44. Gift of Ivan Albright. © The Art Institute of Chicago

Albright’s reputation as an inimitable painter of decaying flesh led to his commission to, what perhaps is, his best known painting  “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” He was commissioned to paint this for a 1945 Hollywood film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel about a shallow young man who sells his soul to keeps his youthful beauty, while his portrait ages gradually revealing his inner ugliness to all. 

In this work, pictured above, Albright pushed that depiction to the limit. Note: the maniacal bulging eyes, the sores and the pustules covering his leprous features.

Other prominent works in the exhibition include “Into the World Came a Soul Called Ida,” where Albright transformed a young model into a knotted mass of aging and grotesque flesh.

His 1927 full-length portrait  of ‘an electric worker, “The Lineman” won a prestigious award but when it was reproduced on the cover of the industry’s magazine “Electric Light & Power” readers were outraged.

The Lineman.

The Lineman.

Albright’s insight was so strong that at the end of his life he turned his gaze on himself in a haunting series of more than 20 self-portraits (1981-83), the final one made in his hospital as he lay dying.

Albright self portrait

A Chicago native, who was raised on the North Shore and attended New Trier High School, Albright remains one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.

While Albright’s paintings portray the body’s vulnerability to age, disease, and death, his work also displays elements of profound sympathy and humanity.

His attention to detail is what makes his work outstanding. Albright would often spend a year or more closely examining a single subject for his paintings. During his lifetime Albright challenged conventional notions of art and beauty and even today his work retains the power to shock, move and fascinate.

What: ‘Flesh: Ivan Albright
When: May 4 – August 15
Where: Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan

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