Making (Art) History Who Are the Most Significant Chicago Artists of the Past Half-Century? the Museum of Contemporary Art Names 150 of Them in Their New Exhibit

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Valeo Daily Herald Staff Writer

The Scoop

- What: Art in Chicago, 1945-1995

- Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago (one block east of Michigan Avenue)

- When: Nov. 16 to March 23

- Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closed Mondays

- Admission: Suggested admission is $6.50, $4 for students and seniors. Members and children 12 and under are admitted free

- Parking: Discount parking is available in the garage attached to the east side of the museum

Great art is created twice - once by the artist, and once by the well-informed people who decide that it is, indeed, great art.

That is why "Art in Chicago, 1945-1995," should be viewed as a creative act. In it, 150 artists are enshrined, their greatness verified and certified by a selection process designed to identify the most significant visual artists in Chicago since the end of World War II.

Who identified them?

Ultimately, that responsibility fell to Lynne Warren, the curator of the show, which opens Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

But Warren is quick to point out that she was by no means the sole arbiter of artistic greatness.

"This was a team decision-making process," said the diminutive curator, who has been at the MCA for 20 years - longer than just about anyone. "When we started, we discovered there was very little literature on this topic, so I decided we'd have to go to the people who lived through this period. We did interviews, oral histories and archival research. We questioned artists, dealers and collectors."

One technique Warren developed was to assign "thought experiments" to the research team.

"I'd say, 'OK, you've got a cousin from out of town who is coming to Chicago and wants to know all about Chicago art - what would be important to show him?' " Warren said. "Or I'd ask them to imagine that they were artists from New York who were visiting Chicago. What would an artist like to see?"

To Warren's surprise, there was "amazing agreement" among the members of the team and the outside advisers they consulted.

"When we would ask, 'If you were writing a history of art in Chicago during the past 50 years, who would you include?' " Warren recalled. "There was amazing agreement on 95 percent of the artists. But selecting the remaining 5 percent proved to be very contentious, especially for the more recent artists."

Warren has found herself the target of intensive lobbying efforts by artists, agents and gallery owners.

"I think artists believe that being included in the show will enhance their careers," she said. "But many artists who have received such boosts from other exhibits have been forgotten. I'd like all of the artists in the show to be remembered forever, but it's easy for fame to dissipate."

Besides, Warren isn't conducting a popularity contest; she is trying to document the history of art in Chicago during the last half-century, and for that she must rely primarily on whatever fame and influence the artists already have achieved.

"This isn't a show about undiscovered geniuses," Warren said. "All of these artists have had public careers of some significance. That's why the focus is on older work that has been seen a lot, work that had an impact at the time it was created."

So, for example, Ed Paschke, whose neon-colored paintings based on photographic images practically defined the "Chicago Imagist" movement, has four paintings in the show, and three of them are among the most familiar images he ever created.

And Roger Brown, another Imagist whose vibrant, cartoonish images often incorporate Chicago landmarks, also has four familiar works in the exhibit.

But Chicago Imagism is well known - almost too well known in Warren's opinion. …