Inspired by the 20th century New Images of Man exhibition directed by Peter Selz, Carl Hammer Gallery early on committed to discovering and championing work by artists whose art focused on representation of the Human figure. Debuting to a vibrant Chicago art scene in 1979 , the Carl Hammer Gallery initially began by promoting the cause of "outsider" art from which notable names associated to their discovery and promotion include Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Frank Jones, to name a few. Validation of this vision came in the form of Jane Livingston and John Beardsley’s curation of the 1983 Corcoran Art Gallery landmark exhibition Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980. This exhibition re-vitalized and revamped the debate regarding issues such as "high and low art", race and art, etc. Now, 35 years later, Carl Hammer Gallery is internationally recognized as one of the international pioneers of this genre.
Within the first decade of this gallery’s existence, the inclusion of academically trained artists to the gallery's “Vision of Man” programming significantly broadened its hallmark. Including becoming an authority on the history of American sideshow banner art (co-author of Freak Show: Sideshow Banner Art, Chronicle Books/1996), the focus in representing the Human figure continued to be paramount to the gallery's exhibition and artist selection direction. Recent infusion to our inventory from secondary market art inventory by Monster Roster artists (Leon Golub, June Leaf, Don Baum, H.C. Westermann) and works by Chicago Imagists (Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Ed Paschke, Karl Wirsum, Miyoko Ito, Joseph Yoakum) combine with our ongoing pursuit of discovering new generations of artists committed to grappling with the human predicament, each trying to discover through their art the coherency of that which makes us all human.