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The rag-tag group of artists known as the Imagists gained a certain notoriety in 1960s Chicago for creating art populated by monstrous cartoons, illogical landscapes, and puerile (often downright disgusting) scenes. The bright colors and garish figures take cues from comic books, folk art, and Surrealism, not so much blurring the boundaries between high and low culture but forsaking them altogether. Artists of Chicago subgroups like the Hairy Who and Monster Roster made the concurrent Pop art movement sweeping New York look like a scene from Norman Rockwell‘s Saturday Evening Post. While Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist were elevating graphic arts—and making a case for white-cube gallery acceptance—the Imagist’s work was never more polished than the comics that served as inspiration.

In a second-story brownstone in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, curator Madeleine Mermall has brought works by the original members of the Imagists together with a new generation of Chicago-based artists, for “The Chicago Show.” The salon-style curation is inspired by the Roger Brown Study Collection, a time capsule of the eponymous artist’s studio and home, filled with art objects and artifacts and preserved by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Although Brown himself is not included in this show, his personal collection is a goldmine for understanding the delirious cross-pollination that fed his aesthetic, and that of his Third Coast cohort.

While similarly madcap artists like Jim Shaw, R. Crumb, and Tom of Finlandhave been absorbed by the highest echelons of the art establishment, the Imagists of the original Chicago scene are still largely regional names. Their legacy, however, is evident in the emerging artists displayed alongside them at The Chicago Show.

The Chicago Show is on view at 56 Downing Street 2nd floor, Brooklyn through Sunday, May 20, from noon–6 p.m.

The original Chicago Imagist artists included in the show are Jim Nutt, Ray Yoshida, Ed Paschke, Jim Falconer, Sarah Canright, Ed Flood, Art Green, HC Westermann, Karl Wirsum, and Philip Hanson. Other artists include Bryant Worley, Darius Airo, Jenn Smith, Kailyn Perry, Jeffly Molina, Chris Capoyianes, Mel Cook, Yvette Mayorga, Aviv Benn, Amadeo Morelos, Jin Jeong, Caleb Beck, Anwar Mahdi, Omar Velazquez, Kenrick McFarlane, Mason Pott, Nikko Washington, and Joseph Yoakum. 

–Caroline Goldstein



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