Today, the Hairy Who is often thought of as a Chicago movement or style rather than a self-defined group of artists who chose to exhibit together. Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum were all graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and as the Hairy Who, they began mounting gonzo displays of bright, bold graphic work at the Hyde Park Art Center on the city’s South Side in the late 1960s. The Art Institute is proud to organize this first-ever major survey exhibition dedicated solely to this groundbreaking exhibition group.
Like all Americans of their generation, these audacious young Chicagoans came of age during a period of national upheaval that witnessed the escalation of the war in Vietnam, assassinations of political figures, student protests, a rising counterculture, tumultuous racial and gender relations, and the inexorable expansion of a capitalist consumer economy. Vividly unbridled yet also formally refined, their work embodied irreverence and youthful fearlessness. Naming themselves the Hairy Who, they staged six uninhibited and informal exhibitions between 1966 and 1969—three in Chicago and one each in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC.
Although they chose to exhibit together, they were six distinct individuals with unique, chiefly figurative visual vocabularies. They each radically manipulated source material collected from everyday life—including advertisements, comics, posters, and sales catalogs—with technical virtuosity. Their sense of humor embraced idiosyncrasy and spontaneity with wordplay, puns, and inside jokes that often belied the transgressiveness of their subject matter. Ambiguous, provocative, but also strategic, their work transmitted progressive ideas that challenged prevailing notions of gender and sexuality, social mores and standards of beauty, and nostalgia and obsolescence.
The Hairy Who’s distinct aesthetic transformed the landscape of art in Chicago, bringing the city immense national and international acclaim. This comprehensive exhibition and accompanying publication—presented on the 50th anniversary of their final Chicago show—features approximately 225 works assembled from public and private collections, together with key works drawn from the Art Institute’s collection, and includes large-scale paintings, sculpture, and works on paper as well as archival ephemera that contextualize the artists’ creative processes and working methods.
Hairy Who? 1966–1969 is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hairy Who? 1966–1969 is part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy, with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
This exhibition is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Major support for this exhibition is also provided by an anonymous donor, Robert J. Buford, the Kemper Educational and Charitable Fund, and Kathy and Chuck Harper.
Additional support is contributed by Mark and Judy Bednar, the Morton International Exhibition Fund, and Deborah Lovely.