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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Krannert Art Museum: Exhibitions Guide Archive: Between the Buildings

This guide assembles research guides for past Krannert Art Museum shows.

About This Guide

This guide provides information and links to additional resources about the artists included the Krannert Art Museum's exhibition, Between the Buildings: Art From Chicago, 1930s-1980s on view August 30, 2018-March 23, 2019. If you need help finding additional information, please contact the Ricker Library


About KAM and the Collection

Ricker Library

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Ricker Library of Architecture & Art
208 Architecture Building
608 East Lorado Taft Drive
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 333-0224
Subjects: Art & Architecture

About the Exhibition

By highlighting KAM’s strong holdings of work from artists practicing in Chicago during the 1930s through the 1980s, this exhibition will ask what is a “Chicago artist” and what constitutes the “Chicago School”—ultimately exploring how styles and categories are fashioned and perpetuated, and how they may ultimately fall out of favor. 

Coined by art writers and critics in the mid- to late twentieth century, the so-called Chicago School consisted of two groups of artists. The Monster Roster created expressive psychological works inspired by classical myths and ancient art. The Imagists are distinguished primarily by their idiosyncratic figural style, which often incorporates crude humor and aspects of Chicago vernacular culture. These artists diverged from the broader mid-century trend toward abstraction and were largely ignored or dismissed by critics in New York, who were defining the canon of modernism. However, what happens when the categorization and labeling of a group of artists is unwanted or contested? This exhibition considers the problematic nature of art historical categories and explores what other stories are missed by perpetuating a single narrative.

While the narrative of a strong figural tradition in Chicago is not unfounded, artists working in the city produced diverse, personal aesthetics—mainly due to the layout of neighborhoods in the city. Although many artists worked in isolation and regularly shared difficulty finding venues for showing their work, they collectively established alternative exhibition spaces. They regularly exhibited with fellow students from various art schools, including the School of the Art Institute, the New Bauhaus/Institute of Design, and the University of Chicago. Educational art programs and fine art institutions, such as the Hyde Park Art Center and the South Side Community Art Center, were instrumental in creating vital networks for artists who often worked independently. Thus, the notion that artists in Chicago held exhibitions out of necessity rather than a passion for a particular ideology further contests the idea of a clearly defined Chicago School.

Between the Buildings also reflects Krannert Art Museum’s strong collection of works by Chicago-based artists developed by Stephen Prokopoff, the museum’s director from 1983–1991. As a collections-based exhibition, it cannot fully tell the stories of political activism, feminist art, mural and street art, or experiments in new media that were vital to artistic practice in mid-century Chicago. But by decentering the prevailing “Chicago School” canon, the exhibition reveals the many stories that unfolded between the buildings—the structure of neighborhoods, artistic collaborations, and connections made through educational and fine arts institutions—creating a more inclusive/varied/dynamic history of art in Chicago at this time.

Artists include: Don Baum, Phyllis Bramson, Fred Berger, Harry Callahan, Barbara Crane, Henry Darger, Leon Golub, Vera Klement, Ellen Lanyon, Nathan Lerner, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, and Allen Stringfellow.

Curated by Kathryn Koca Polite

Fair Use Guidelines

Materials accessed in this guide are provided for personal and/or scholarly use.  Users are responsible for obtaining any copyright permissions that may be required for their own further uses of that material.  For more information about fair use please refer to the College Art Association Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts.