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New Roger Brown Installation

Things are always changing in the contemporary galleries. Recently a new room of paintings by Chicago artist Roger Brown (American, 1941–97) was installed in gallery 296, on the second floor of the Modern Wing. Brown was a student at the School of the Art Institute in the 1960s and later became the most well known of a group of local artists called the Chicago Imagists. His clear, bold paintings depict stylized human figures, comic book-like narrative scenes, and surreal architectural constructions that reflect the contradictions of contemporary urban life.

Hands down my favorite work in this installation is that pictured above,  Museum without Ceiling, a painting that must have been inspired by Brown’s many visits to the Art Institute. Recognize the façade?

The title plays on the phrase “Museum without Walls,” coined by French art critic André Malraux in the 1940s to describe the infinite institution that is created in one’s mind by viewing art reproductions. In his work, Brown depicts a museum that has solid walls but a transparent roof, suggesting the sense of freedom and possibility that looking at art can provide even within the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar building. The tiny figures in Brown’s museum express awe, delight, and surprise in response to sculptures resembling the work of Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, and a many-armed Hindu deity, among others. By lining up silhouettes of human figures and art works side by side, Brown also suggests that visitors are often just as interested in observing other people as they are in contemplating the art works on display.

There’s a lot out we have to say about Roger Brown! Here are a few more resources:

--Art historian Sidney Lawrence compiled a list of Roger Brown’s favorite works in the Art Institute, including paintings by Giovanni di Paolo, Giorgio de Chirico, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Edward Hopper. Here is a selection.

--In addition to the Renaissance and modern paintings he saw at the Art Institute, Brown was inspired by various aspects of visual culture including signs, billboards, folk art, and flea market junk. He amassed an amazing collection of objects from around the world, a collection on view at his former home and studio on Halsted Street and run by the School of the Art Institute. It’s a great place to visit if you want to learn more about Brown’s art. Visitor info is online here, and you can also read a bio of Brown here.

-- Be sure to check out more works by Brown (including the cool decal above) in the Chicago Stories exhibition on view in the Prints and Drawings galleries through August 15th.

--There is also an exhibition of his work at the Hyde Park Art Center through October 3.

An artist who constantly mined the museum for inspiration, Roger Brown’s work always makes me see new connections between art works in the collection that I would never have imagined.

-Grace M., Department of Museum Education

Source: Sidney Lawrence, Roger Brown. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1987.

Images: Roger Brown, Museum without Ceiling, 1976. Oil on canvas. Restricted gift of Ruth Horwich; Ann M. Vielehr Prize Fund.

Roger Brown, False Image Decals, 1969, Color silkscreen decals, commercially manufactured, Gift of the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.