MMoCA Acquires the Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Acquires the Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism
MADISON, WI—The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) has acquired an exceptional private collection of works by the Chicago Imagists. The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism includes consummate paintings, sculptures, and unique works on paper by Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, Ray Yoshida, and other members of this significant group. The combined gift and purchase constitutes one of the museum’s most important acquisitions since its permanent collection was established in 1968.
The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism includes one hundred works from the personal collection of William H. McClain, Halvorson Professor of Bacteriology, Emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The collection is comprised of 27 paintings; 9 sculptures; 9 collages; 13 drawings; 32 watercolors; 8 prints; a limited-edition catalog; and a set of collaborative comic books. Artists represented in the collection are Roger Brown; Sara Canright; Victor Faccinto; Ed Flood; Art Green; Phillip Hanson; Robert Lostutter; Gladys Nilsson; Jim Nutt; Ed Paschke; Christine Ramberg; Suellen Rocca; Barbara Rossi; Karl Wirsum; and Ray Yoshida
According to MMoCA director Stephen Fleischman, the transition of the McClain Collection to a public institution has national and international significance. “I am grateful to Bill for this incredibly generous act, which will serve the community for generations to come. As a collector, Bill combines energy and enthusiasm with discerning judgment, and this collection reflects these qualities,” Fleischman said. “Works from the McClain Collection build upon an existing area of strength in the museum’s permanent collection, and the resulting resource will reward scholars and museum visitors far into the future. We are honored to be able to preserve and present these works for public view.”
The significance of the Chicago Imagists was established in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Between 1966 and 1971, Don Baum, director of the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, organized a series of exhibitions in Chicago that introduced audiences to several groups of young artists. These groups, including Hairy Who, Nonplussed Some, and False Image, were soon identified collectively as the Chicago Imagists. All of the artists were native to Chicago, in their 20s, and students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; at the school, they were influenced by the faculty, most especially Ray Yoshida, and by the Art Institute’s renowned collection of Surrealist art.
These vibrant artists were drawn, like Pop artists in New York and Los Angeles, to popular culture and the everyday world. However, unlike Pop art, Chicago Imagism was a fantasy art of brilliant color, graphic strength, and free line. It trafficked in brash cartoon-like satires that spoke to the political and social foibles, violence, and whimsy of contemporary life at the end of the 1960s.
Regarding the McClain Collection, MMoCA’s curator of collections, Richard H. Axsom, offered this assessment: “In its exceptional depth and scope, the collection is one of the most important of its kind. All major Imagists are included, with Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, and Ray Yoshida represented with a full range of works from all periods of their careers.”
In addressing why he chose the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art as the repository for his collection, Bill McClain said, “The care of these works was of primary concern, so the museum’s record as a vigilant steward of its permanent collection was important. I also knew the museum’s new main galleries would make a stunning setting for exhibitions of Imagists works.” McClain is a long-time friend of the museum, and a former member of the Board of Trustees (1989-94, 1995-2001, and 2002-03) and Board president (1995-1997).
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