Outsider Art: Chicago We Own It

The big Chicago Calling show at Intuit, curated by Lisa Stone and Ken Burkhart, features 10 important artists, most of them canonical in the outsider art world. I got to curate a small annex exhibit, Chicago We Own It, that explicitly looks outside the canon and at how this kind of art has been collected in Chicago.

To say there is a uniquely Chicago school of collecting may be an overstatement, but there does seem to be a Chicago style of collecting, characterized by an acquisitive eye and a hunger to spot creativity wherever and however it turns up, no matter how unlikely the setting and without much regard to anxieties about aesthetic categories or theories.

Maxwell Street Market, 1988
Maxwell Street Market, 1988

At least some of that attitude can be attributed to the old Maxwell Street Market,  a kind of art school for many Chicago collectors, and one that rewarded a taste for unusual juxtaposition, an ability to spot meaning amid chaos and decay,  and a focus on the object for its own virtue. It promoted a generous eye that could embrace not only the canonical artists featured in Chicago Calling — Henry Darger, William Dawson, Lee Godie, Mr. Imagination, Aldo Piacenza, Pauline Simon, Drossos Skyllas, Dr. Charles Smith, Wesley Willis, and Joseph Yoakum — but also many lesser-known, anonymous and even accidental creators. Their work can be just as striking, and it has found entrée into many collections, if not as many museums.

Maxwell-Street-influenced collecting also inspired a certain way of displaying the stuff, epitomized by the homes of such influential artist-collectors as Ray Yoshida, Roger Brown and others. Quantity makes packing shelves with objects a practical necessity, and those congested shelves, unified only by the collector’s eye, make an aesthetic statement in their own right. So do the nearby paintings typically hung “salon style,” a euphemism for the kind of crowded display seen in Chicago We Own It. That title, it should be said, is inspired by a favorite phrase of canonical Chicago artist Lee Godie, which also serves nicely as a slogan for those Chicago collectors to whose acquisitiveness we owe this show.

Both exhibits are part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with help from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. And thanks to Terra funding, the two Intuit shows will be traveling to four European venues after they close in January: La Halle Saint Pierre (Paris, March 23 – August 2, 2019), the Prinzhorn Collection (Heidelberg, September 2019–January 2020), the Collection de l’Art Brut (Lausanne, March 6– August 30, 2020) and the Outsider Art Museum (Amsterdam, September 2020-March 2021).

Chicago We Own It is hung in very constricted space and thus hard to photograph. But here are images from the installation. You can find a key to the art works below the gallery. 

Installation photos key

Pictures Row 1

  • Charles Pansirna (Lithuanian-American, 1888-1970). Untitled (wedding couple), late 19th-early 20th Hand-colored gelatin silver print. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Lee Godie (American, 1908-1994). Chicago We Own It, c. 1980. Pen, pencil and watercolor paint on canvas. Collection of Carl Hammer and Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
  • Untitled (group portrait), 1986. Paint on board. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Private collection

Pictures Row 2

  • Tony Davis (American, b. 1960). Apartment scene, 2015. Pen and marker on illustration board. Collection of Mark Jackson
  • Frances Caldwell (American, b. 1938). Christmas Morning, November 24, 1952. Watercolor on paper. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Private collection
  • Nicholas Greeley (American, 1894-1985). Untitled (drunk), n.d. Paint on board. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • Nicholas Greeley (American, 1894-1985). House of Blazes, 1970s. Paint on board. Collection of Mark Jackson

Pictures Row 3

  • Nicholas Greeley (American, 1894-1985). Birds, Paint on board. Collection of Mark Jackson
  • Nicholas Greeley (American, 1894-1985). Untitled (street corner), 1975. Paint on board. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Gift of Ruth and Bob Vogele
  • John Dyer (American, 1943-1985). Untitled (drawing), n.d. Graphite on paper. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • John Dyer (American, 1943-1985). Untitled (drawing), n.d. Graphite and marker on paper. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • John Dyer (American, 1943-1985). Untitled (drawing), n.d. Graphite on paper. Collection of Dave Kargl

Pictures Row 4

  • Bad Dog, 1990s. Oil based paint on metal panel. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Collection of Mark Jackson
  • Oscar Martinez Garcia (unknown, 20th century). Airplane, 2010. Ink and glitter glue on paper. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • Oscar Martinez Garcia (unknown, 20th century). Untitled (red plant with text ‘Salmo 3’), 2010. Ink and glitter on paper. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • Oscar Martinez Garcia (unknown, 20th century). Untitled (blue plant with text), 2010. Ink and glitter on paper. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • Sylvia Roberti (American, 1910-1985). The Lady with the Rose, 1968. Oil on board. Collection of Robert Alter and Sherry Siegel
  • Sylvia Roberti (American, 1910-1985). Untitled (a monster’s face), September 1976. Watercolor, ink and colored pencil. Private collection
  • Sylvia Roberti (American, 1910-1985). Abstract, 1965. Ink, crayon and colored pencil on paperboard. Collection of Dave Kargl

Shelves Row 1

  • Untitled (blue woman), n.d. Photo, cardboard and colored pencil. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Private collection
  • Untitled (Jesus Saves sign), n.d. Painted wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (woman posing), n.d. Wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (woman posing), n.d. Wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • John Tignor (unknown, 20th century). Captain America, n.d. Paint on wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • John Tignor (unknown, 20th century). Woman in White, n.d. Paint on wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • John Tignor (unknown, 20th century). Standing woman on plinth, n.d. Paint on wood. Collection of Robert Alter and Sherry Siegel
  • Untitled(Female figure), August 1964. Wood. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Bandai America Incorporated. Daitetsujin 17, 1984. Paint, plastic and metal. Private Collection
  • Untitled (embracing couple), 1960. Wood. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Collection of Mark Jackson.
  • Mask with crown and mustache, 20thcentury. Gesso and paint on wood. Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Lamp, 1960s. Popsicle sticks, tile, lamp fixture and cord. Collection of Don Howlett
  • Bruno Sowa (American, 1914-1995). Untitled (buffalo relief), 1975. Paint on wood. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • The Robinson-Ransbottom Pottery Company. ‘Oscar’ cookie jar, 1940s. Ceramic. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Lanier Meaders (American, 1917-1998). Face Jug, 1960-1980s. Glazed stoneware. Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Silent Butler/Smoking Stand, 1950-1960s. Paint on wood and metal tray. Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Bruno Sowa (American, 20th century). Tan Devil, n.d. Paint on wood. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of Lael and Eugenie Johnson
  • William Warmack (American, 1941-2016). Purse, early 1990s. Folded wrappers. Collection of Robert Alter and Sherry Siegel 

Shelves Row 2

  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (zigzag vase), early 1990s. Stainless steel. Private collection
  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (plain vase), 1990s. Stainless steel. Private collection
  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (Ribbon vase), 1990s. Stainless steel. Private collection
  • Untitled (small dog), 1950s. Bottle caps, paint and wood. Private collection
  • Untitled (round object), n.d. Cigar bands and glass. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (pair of bottle cap figures), 1960s. Bottle caps, plastic, paint and wood. Private collection
  • Untitled (pair of trays), n.d. Cigar bands and glass. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (tall dog), 1950s. Bottle caps, paint and wood. Private collection
  • John F. “Grandpa Moses” Urbaszewski (American, 1912-2002). Rotating bridge, Paint on wood and wire. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • John F. “Grandpa Moses” Urbaszewski (American, 1912-2002). Boat, Paint on wood and wire. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • John F. “Grandpa Moses” Urbaszewski (American, 1912-2002). Platform with stairs, Paint on wood and wire. Collection of Dave Kargl
  • Joe “40,000” Murphy, né Cerny (American, 1898-1979). Forty Thousand Murphy’s Museum, 1946. Photograph, stickers and ink. Private collection
  • Joe “40,000” Murphy, né Cerny(American, 1898-1979). Inspection, n.d. Photograph, watercolor on paper. Private collection
  • Ocean-going boat, n.d. Metal, paint and string. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (head), n.d. Ceramic. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Attributed to Jerry Brown (American, 1917-1998). Face Jug, Glazed stoneware. Roger Brown Study Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Anonymous. Untitled (head), n.d. Ceramic.  Collection of Keith Sadler

Shelves Row 3

  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (face box), 1980s. Metal. Private collection
  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (pegged box), Stainless steel. Private collection
  • Stanley Szwarc (American, 1928-2011). Untitled (TT box), 1988. Stainless steel. Private collection
  • Untitled (tramp art box), n.d. Wood. Acquired at Maxwell Street. Private collection
  • Harvey Ford (American, 20th century). A Mountain of Beautyness, 1994. Paint on papier-mâché and Styrofoam. Private collection
  • William Warmack (American, 1941-2016). Bra, n.d. Folded wrappers. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (memory vase with plastic flowers), n.d. Mixed media. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Untitled (sock monkey), n.d. Fabric. Private collection
  • Untitled (sock monkey), n.d. Fabric. Private collection
  • Anonymous. Untitled (pair of Bert dolls), 1980s. Private collection
  • Untitled (monkey with cymbals), n.d. Mixed media. Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Uniroyal Global. Nauga, c. 1960s. Naugahyde (artificial leather). Collection of Keith Sadler
  • Karl Wirsum (American, b. 1939). Untitled (Santa head), 1980. Cardboard. Private collection
  • Untitled (spooky figure), n.d. Needlepoint. Private collection
Tony Davis, Chicago We Own It artist
Tony Davis, one of the few living artists in either show, at the opening, standing beneath his Apartment Scene. 

And here are a few sample shots of Chicago Calling. There’s more art in the back gallery.

Read the Chicago Calling/Chicago We Own It catalog

Visit the Intuit site for more information on Chicago Calling and Chicago We Own It.

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