Museum  September 25, 2018  Megan D Robinson

A Survey Fifty Years in the Making: the Hairy Who at the AIC

© Suellen Rocca

Suellen Rocca, Bare Shouldered Beauty and the Pink Creature, 1965. The Art Institute of Chicago, Frederick W. Renshaw Acquisition and Carol Rosenthal-Groeling Purchase funds.

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.

Fifty years after their last show, the Art Institute of Chicago presents the first major survey of the Hairy Who, a group of six Chicago Imagists. Similar to New York Pop Art in their use of imagery from advertising, Chicago Imagists differed from Pop artists in their creation intensely personal work. Unlike the cooly intellectual Pop artists, Imagists’ exuberant, irreverent art could be fun, bizarre and unsettling. Unconventional artists who used bold graphics, grotesquerie, surrealism and humor, the Hairy Who revolutionized the 1960’s Chicago art world. 

In 1964, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, James Falconer, Art Green, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum organized a group show at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. Joking around while brainstorming a name for the group show, they came up with Hairy Who? Mentored by their School of the Art Institute professors, the group produced vivid, irreverent work. Inspired by comics, advertising, art brut and personal experience, each artists created works of startling, visceral intensity. 

Karl Wirsum. Youdue, c. 1966
© Karl Wirsum

Karl Wirsum. Youdue, c. 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Koffler.

Jim Nutt. Wowidow, 1968
© Jim Nutt

Jim Nutt. Wowidow, 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, The Lacy Armour and Samuel and Blanche Koffler Acquisition funds; the Estate of Walter Aitken.

Jim Nutt. Untitled, 1966
© Jim Nutt

Jim Nutt. Untitled, 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Foundation.

Karl Wirsum. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, 1968
© Karl Wirsum

Karl Wirsum. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund.

Using wordplay, puns and inside jokes to disarm viewers, the Hairy Who challenged current ideas about gender and sexuality, social mores, and beauty standards, while examining nostalgia and obsolescence. They staged six groundbreaking exhibitions between 1966 and 1969, three in Chicago and one each in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC. 

Hairy Who? 1966-1969 runs at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 6, 2019. 

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.