By Katina Beniaris
The Art Institute of Chicago digs through its roots to present artists who trained at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in honor of the school’s 150th anniversary.
“Homegrown: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Permanent Collection” features approximately 120 objects, mainly works on paper, from the Art Institute’s collection of its school’s student artists.
Organized by Art Institute Curator and SAIC Professor Mark Pascale, the exhibit focuses on various American art styles beginning with the early 20th century and then organized loosely by decade. It includes notable SAIC alumni such as Imagist painter Ed Paschke and sports artist LeRoy Neiman.
“‘Homegrown’ was a labor of love,” said Joseph Semkiu, the curatorial research assistant in the museum’s department of prints and drawings, who also completed helped research the exhibit. “Mark really put everything together in a masterful way. He had a vision, and he knew who he wanted to include. It was really difficult sometimes to make tough decisions on who to exclude.”
The exhibit’s early 20th century works include black-and-white etching by artists associated with the Chicago Society of Etchers (founded in 1910 by four SAIC alumni) and several colorful woodblock prints by Gustave Baumann, one of the leading printmakers in America’s color woodcut revival.
“You can really see at this point that Baumann was a master printmaker,” Semkiu said. “It’s kind of unique. He would create a small edition of these prints. We’re lucky to have it. If you were to pick one work by Baumann, these [woodblock prints] would probably be it.”
Among the most high-profile works are 20 iconic self-portraits by painter Ivan Albright who attended SAIC between 1919 to 1923, though he never graduated. In 1977, when Albright was 80, the school awarded him an honorary degree.
“You could really see [Albright] experimenting [with] different styles, some more realistic and some more impressionistic,” Semkiu said. “[These portraits] are definitely a highlight of this exhibition.”
One portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the Hairy Who, a group of SAIC who presented their pop art and surrealist work at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1966.
“If you have to say what trend defined the Chicago arts now, it was the Hairy Who,” Semkiu said. “They really influenced the later 20th century [artists].”
Hairy Who artist and watercolorist Gladys Nilsson created “Big School Picture; Little Paper Mural,” whose playful and colorful composition is an excellent example of the exhibit’s collective messages. The painting shows SAIC students as simplified human body forms occupying assorted spaces in time from the early 20th century to the ‘90s. The latter group is making art with their Walkmans.
“Homegrown” closes this Sunday at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Galleries 124-127. For information, visit www.artic.edu.