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Eye Deal: Abstract Bodies of the Chicago Imagists

August 11, 2018 – June 9, 2019

Gladys Nilsson, Beautify, 1994. Watercolor, gouache, and collage on two sheets of paper, 8 x 5 1/2 inches (each). Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism.

From August 11, 2018 through June 9, 2019 the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) will present an exhibition highlighting their acclaimed collection of works by the Chicago Imagists in Eye Deal: Abstract Bodies of the Chicago Imagists. The name, Eye Deal, is sourced from the title of two works in the exhibition by artist Barbara Rossi. The exhibition will also feature artwork by Sarah Canright, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum.

Teaching Pages & Tours

Introduce your students to key works of art on view at MMoCA. Teaching pages may be used to prepare for a museum visit or as an ongoing classroom resource.

Barbara Rossi

Sarah Canright

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The Imagists were a group of figurative artists that emerged in Chicago in the mid-1960s. They employed the comic book, commercial advertising, and the grotesque to render detailed compositions full of color and sexual innuendo. Poking fun at the extreme silhouettes presented in advertisements of the 1950s and 60s, the Imagists created their own exaggerated, warped bodies that playfully mocked the bulging muscles and tiny waistlines of society’s ideal physique. In Oh Dat Sally (1967-68), Nutt’s densely etched line emphasizes the intensity of the nightmarish grooming ritual taking place. The ghoulish Sally wields a sharp blade to shave her body in adherence with the “shiny ‘n nice” standard reinforced in 1960s advertisements as in those for the hair removal product Nair. In the upper-right corner is the suggestive phrase “take it off!!”—one Nutt takes to the extreme; her blade smooths and preens her body to remove any bumps and imperfections to the point where she has no lips, eyes, hands, or feet.

The Imagists toyed with the bizarre images that inspired and confronted them in their everyday lives. Parodying the odd, unrealistic bodily ideals in printed matter resulted in artworks that are a witty commentary on the extreme modifications required to transform the body into the consumer ideal. The works presented in Eye Deal reveal the unhinged oddities of the human form when left to the wild imaginations of this humorous and colorful group of Chicago artists.

Karl Wirsum, Untitled (Head of a Bearded Man), 1966. Mixed media on paper, 13 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism.
Exhibition Sponsors

Exhibitions in the Henry Street Gallery are generously funded through an endowment established by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.