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Imagism and Beyond


I saw a fascinating exhibition in Chicago that is ending this month, devoted to the work of the Chicago Imagists and their heirs. The Imagists were a group of artists living in Chicago who started to exhibit together as a group in the 1960s, at first under the auspices of a curator from the newly-built MCA. Their work was notable for its use of comic book imagery, and indeed some of the artists, like Jim Nutt, worked sometimes in the counter-culture comics scene.


People think of the Pop Artists as appropriating imagery from popular culture, but as the notes to this exhibition pointed out, Warhol, Lichtenstein et al usually referred to commercial imagery. It was the Chicago Imagists who really went all in for the comic book look, a strand of art that has emerged in many forms since then (street or graffiti art, to name only one).

This exhibition was divided over three venues: The De Paul Art Museum, the library at the School of the Art Institute, and the Book and Paper Center at Columbia College Chicago. In particular, the CCC part of the show had lost of good work by contemporary artists who made work that paid homage to the original imagists:




I particularly liked one artist who did an animation using crude cut out shapes:

        

As usual, there's something more developed going on when someone coming from the tradition of western art (even in a contrarian frame of mind) appropriates pop imagery. It stops being about the content, and you get the sense of a larger organizing power at work. 

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