Weekly Update – Chicago at PAFA

This week’s Weekly includes my preview of “Art in Chicago” opening Friday at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Here’s the art page and below is the copy with some additional pictures.

[Note: Curator Robert Cozzolino posted a correction to some statements in this preview. For his comments see post.]

Second City
A show at PAFA argues Chicago’s maverick surrealism was a movement of its own.

Jim Nutt, I’m All A’TWit, 1969


Early in the 20th century, while New York painters were plying their trade as abstractionists, artists in Chicago chose painted figures and landscapes of a dreamy surreality instead. A new exhibit at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, “Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism,” argues this maverick surrealism spans the entire century in Chicago, and should be seen as a distinct category rather than as a regional blip on the New York radar.

Some might take issue with the show’s inclusion of the raucous, outsidery paintings of ’60s-era Hairy Who artists–Ed Paschke, Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt and Ray Yoshida. But PAFA associate curator Robert Cozzolino, who organized the exhibit, says, “The one contribution this show might make is that it doesn’t stop at 1945, which is a line in the sand. We’ll show that the quality persists across generations. It’s been said the Hairy Who didn’t have much in common with earlier Chicago art, but there’s a lot characteristic of Chicago art in the Hairy Who.”

About a third of the 60-odd paintings, drawings and sculptures from 1912 to 1987 come from PAFA’s collection, including the recent acquisition of Nutt’s I’m All a TWit. Cozzolino gathered the rest of the work from private collections in Philadelphia and Chicago. Cozzolino, 35, is a Chicago native and art historian whose Ph.D. thesis focused on Ivan Albright, who’s prominently featured in the exhibit.

Ivan Albright, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1929-30

Like several other Chicago-area artists, Albright and his twin brother Malvin studied at PAFA, and their father was a monitor for Thomas Eakins. This PAFA-Chicago School of the Art Institute connection points to the two-step the institutions have been doing for a long time, funneling students and faculty back and forth through a network of friends and family.

One of the show’s curatorial coups is the “Seven Lively Arts,” a group of mural-sized paintings made by the Albrights, Aaron Bohrod and others for the late Chicago eatery Riccardo’s. After the restaurant closed the 8-by-4-foot paintings were dispersed and brought together again only in 2002 by Chicago philanthropist Seymour Persky. This show will be the group’s museum debut.

William S. Schwartz (De Profundis detail)

Early works by Nancy Spero and Leon Golub are included, as is a painting by Gertrude Abercrombie, one of the magical realist painters Cozzolino featured in a show at Chazen Art Museum in 2005. (An essay on the “With Friends” show at Chazen appears in February’s Art in America.)

“Chicago” includes some Hairy Who documentation, such as comic book catalogs from their 1960s exhibitions. On loan from the Roger Brown Study Collection at the SAIC, the catalogs are bold, graphically groundbreaking and zinelike-and they cost 50 cents or $1.

Cozzolino says Hairy Who members discovered Chicago outsider artist Joseph Yoakum and collected and championed his work. Several of Yoakum’s drawings-and works by Chicago outsider Lee Godie-are in the show (on loan from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz collection).

Heated interest in figurative art nowadays makes “Chicago” a must-see. The show will be a revelation to many young Philadelphia artists who unknowingly walk the maverick figuration path.

“Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism”
Fri., Feb. 3, 6-8:30pm. $10. Through April 2. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Fisher Brooks Gallery, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Bldg., 128 N. Broad St. 215.972.7600.