Placing the Imagists in a contemporary context, Chicago-born curator Madeleine Mermall has curated “The Chicago Show,” an exhibition in a Brooklyn townhouse, on view through May 20th, that pairs the work of Nutt, Yoshida, Westermann, and their ilk with that of emerging Chicago artists who similarly revel in cartoonish figuration. “There’s this strong, special community right now,” Mermall says. “They’re all working together and showing together and putting on DIY shows.”
One of the exhibited artists from the younger generation, Darius Airo, recalls a corner of the Art Institute of Chicago
where he first noticed the work of
and Karl Wirsum. His own acrylic painting, Chicago Faucet Venus
(2018), features a very pink, heavily distorted female form with a fractured face. Another participant, Jenn Smith, says that what interests her in the Imagists’ work is a feeling of “holding your cards close to the chest. How much information to reveal and how much to conceal. Like a sexual repression.” She also admires their sense of humor and flat treatment of the figure. A third artist, Bryant Worley, is presenting a 2018 work entitled Dic Pics
, which features tattooed men in cowboy hats. He goes so far as to call the Imagists “my entryway into painting as I know it today.”
This renewed attention to the Midwestern group seems to only be getting started. Derek Eller, who has shown Wirsum since 2010, says that since then, he’s seen “a lot more interest here in New York, and probably internationally.” While Barbara Rossi recently enjoyed a small solo exhibition at the New Museum
, many of the Imagists have yet to receive major museum retrospectives. This fall, however, the Art Institute of Chicago will mount a group show, as will Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London in spring 2019. Corbett thinks it’s time, and the recent wave of shows contributes to a certain momentum. “We’ve seen in the last five, six, seven years a whole bunch of small survey shows that have set things up for the opportunity for incredible, career-spanning exhibitions,” he says. Before long, Chicago’s distinct aesthetic accent should be more pervasive than ever.