“New York Cool Meets Chicago Doodly-Scratch”

The Hairy Who 1966-1969

The Hairy Who was a short-lived group of artists that graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago consisting of Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, Jim Falconer, Suellen Rocca, Jim Nutt and Art Green. Closely associated with The Hairy Who are the Chicago Imagists, which included Ed Paschke and Ray Yoshida. Art emerging from Chicago in the mid-to-late 1960s was characterized by bold graphics and an irreverent and iconoclastic spirit that spoke of a youthful bravado in the face of turbulent times. Chicago artists during this era were able to set themselves apart from Pop Art in New York and the Minimalist/Conceptual currents in Los Angeles by sourcing inspiration from comics, Art Brut, surrealism and "low-culture" humor and media.

The Hairy Who had their first exhibition in 1966 at the Hyde Park Art Center and their last show as a group was held in 1969 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. During this brief period of time, the Hairy Who distinguished themselves as transgressive voices, manipulating the everyday material and language of our culture to address sexuality, gender, politics, and other social mores, much like Pop Art, but with a particularly fiendish and freewheeling bent. The group's work continues to be a rising presence in our re-examination of the narrative of mid-century American art.

Chicago seems to me (with the great advantage of hindsight) a place to invent your world. A place that is far enough away so that you could misunderstand the rest of the world and a place unique enough to provide an actuality which no other place will. To use a title from a Sun Ra record, a place where angels and demons are at play, perhaps on the same team.

James Falconer

The most obvious spirit is irony expressed in pop terms, which ambivalently celebrates and lampoons a given subject at one and the same time. This is not unique to Chicago, but what is deeply typical of the art that comes out of this town is the hermetic mood, the occasional overt raunchiness, the dark, soiled, garrulous profusion of images and ideas.

Franz Schulze, Chicago Daily News, 1968