Krannert museum marking state's 200th by showing off biggest city's art

Krannert museum marking state's 200th by showing off biggest city's art

URBANA — As part of the 200-year history celebration of Illinois, Krannert Art Museum is pulling out all of the stops with a large exhibition on its largest city.

Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion is the second-largest general fine-arts museum in the state and Jon L. Seydl, KAM's director, is proud of the Chicago works.

"This art is all from our diverse collection," in the multiple thousands of objects, he said.

"Between The Buildings: Art From Chicago, 1930s to the 1980s" runs through March 23 and shows off the museum's strong collection of vibrant artists, some from the Hairy Who, a small group of six artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Julia Nucci Kelly said the art museum has taken a lead.

"KAM is participating in the Illinois Bicentennial celebration in a few different ways," she said. "For instance, we have lent works of art to the Illinois Bicentennial Exhibition at the Executive Mansion in Springfield. Our works by Chicago artists are so interesting and have such an impact that it seemed like the state's 200th anniversary was a perfect time to bring them out for visitors to see."

We asked Kathryn Koca Polite, the show's curator, to tell us about some of her favorites.

"I've always been drawn to the works by the Chicago Imagists (Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum) in the museum's collection, but as I continued to dig through the collection, I kept coming up with more and more artists practicing in Chicago during the mid- to late 20th century," she said.

An earlier museum director had acquired some of the objects, she said.

"Other than regional proximity to the city, I wondered how KAM developed such a solid collection of paintings, works on paper, and sculpture by Chicago artists," Polite said.

"This led me to think about how museums are not neutral spaces and that their institutional history contributes to the perpetuation of particular canons and categorizations. However, it is then our duty to question those categories, to discover what stories are missing from the narrative."

She said she's been impressed by the interest in Chicago art, especially for some overlooked artists.

"The initiative has been amazing — arts institutions all across the city have been highlighting important stories of artists in Chicago, many marginalized and bringing them to the fore, making them known. But that's all to say that Chicago has such a rich and vibrant arts history that I've been attracted to it for quite a while," she said

Here's Polite's take: (It's hard to name the child you love the most.)

Gladys Nilsson, "The Last Ball," 1976. I find this work stunning — not only does it exhibit her technical skill in drawing, but the densely layered composition of exaggerated figures points to her playful nature and fascination with comics.

Henry Darger, "At Jennie Richee ... By Rising Waters Under Their Shelter They are Driven Further in ..." date unknown. Darger was a reclusive artist and writer who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago. Discovered posthumously by his landlord (and photographer) Nathan Lerner, Darger's drawings and watercolors are illustrations of his fantasy manuscript "In the Realms of the Unreal," a story that follows the adventures of (his characters) the Vivian Girls. The images are populated with children and fantastic creatures in different contexts — some tranquil and others horrific.

Allen Stringfellow, "Street Smarts II," date unknown. Born in Champaign, Allen Stringfellow grew up with his grandmother while his parents (his father was a jazz musician and nightclub manager) lived in Chicago. After taking art classes at (this campus) and in Milwaukee, Stringfellow moved to Chicago where he taught printmaking at the South Side Community Art Center. He often worked with collage and watercolor, depicting religious and jazz imagery, and in this work, Stringfellow depicts a vibrant neighborhood with a social gathering of figures collaged with pieces of patterned fabric. KAM organized a retrospective of his work in 2004.

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