Chicago School: Imagists in Context
September 11, 2011 to January 8, 2012

Chicago School: Imagists in Context explores the distinctive artistic style that began to emerge in Chicago after World War II and which dominated the visual culture of the city for many decades. The exhibition offers a broad cultural framework in which to consider the work of the artists who became known as Chicago Imagists. Drawing from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition presents works by artists who influenced the Imagists or were influenced by them. 
The sensibility that came to define a Chicago School centered on figuration, expressionist subjectivity, and the fantastic. It was strongly influenced by the example of Surrealism, the art movement centering on the subconscious and dream states that was a major strain in modern art in the 1920s and 1930s. In a confluence of taste reflected in art gallery exhibitions, private collections, and the permanent collection and exhibition history of the Art Institute of Chicago--as well as guest lectures by visiting School of Paris artists--Surrealism helped shape the direction of modern art in Chicago in the immediate years after World War II.
At the same time that Abstract Expressionism was largely replacing image-based art within the powerful late 1940s and 1950s art scene in New York--itself the basis for a vibrant New York School--artists in Chicago held tight to recognizable yet highly expressive depictions of the human figure. The new art mirrored not only the sway of Surrealism, but also developments in contemporary European painting and sculpture. By force of their art, these Chicago artists influenced future generations, including the Chicago Imagists and their artistic descendants. Continuing to work within this figurative tradition, the Imagists and the Chicago artists who followed infused their work with fantasy, symbolism, and psychological complexity, thereby echoing the eccentric, irrational imagery initiated by the immediate postwar generation. 
Chicago School: Imagists in Context presents works by artists of national and international stature, from the expressionistically rendered human figures of Leon Golub, a leading artist in the first generation of the Chicago School, to Robert Lostutter’s sexually charged bird-men of the later twentieth century. Also represented in the exhibition are Robert Barnes, Phyllis Bramson, Don Baum, Miyoko Ito, Ellen Lanyon, June Leaf, Robert Lostutter, Peter Saul, Hollis Sigler, and H.C. Westermann, among others.

The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s State Street Gallery from September 11 to January 8, 2012. Chicago School: Imagists in Context runs concurrently with the museum’s major exhibition Chicago Imagists at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which will be on view in MMoCA’s main galleries.

Generous funding for Chicago School: Imagists in Context has been provided by Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C., and Gina and Michael Carter. Additional support has come from a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and by MMoCA Volunteers.


Thursday, October 13 ∙ 12:30–1 pm
Richard H. Axsom on the Chicago School 
Richard H. Axsom will discuss the advent and development of a Chicago School in the visual arts. Axsom is MMoCA’s curator of collections; professor emeritus of art history, University of Michigan; and author of a forthcoming two-volume catalogue raisonné of Ellsworth Kelly’s prints, among other books.

Saturday, November 12 · 11-11:30 am 
Drop-in Tour
Docent Marie Wunsch will discuss the Chicago School’s contributions to American culture.