“Even though it is creepily grotesque, there is something beautiful about it.” This sentence perfectly summarizes the Hairy Who artistic movement in 1960’s Chicago. One of the most infamous artist collectives in American history, the Hairy Who collective has been immortalized through the documentary Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists.
On Monday, Feb. 22, the documentary played in Regents Hall of Natural Sciences 150. The film was presented by one of the filmmakers and the director of the non-profit organization that helped to fund it’s making. Taking around four years to complete, this documentary describes the vital essence of a revolutionary group of artists who started a counter-cultural revolution amidst 20th century surrealist art and made themselves internationally famous in the process.
With Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists, filmmaker Brian Ashby not only incorporates the artistic elements of their work, but also the societal impact of their art. The premise of the art itself, ostentatious and farcical humanoid forms, was shocking at the time of its introduction. The influence of comics of the time was massive on these artists, who adopted the bright, child-like expressions of the strips in a darker way. Described by one of the artists as a “love of outcast objects, fascinated with darker and realer aspects of the human psyche,” this somewhat disturbing movement drew a surprisingly large following of collectors. “Not everything about me is desirable or beautiful, and I believe this art was a way of giving myself permission to express a wider spectrum of myself,” states a collector in the film.
Hairy Who’s installations grew increasingly ambitious and aggressive over time, especially with the anti-Vietnam war movement and the period of assassinations during the 60s and early 70s. Viewed as the amateurs with the “grubby kid stuff” by the other major art cities in America at the time, Hairy Who was seen as the grungy one who was bringing vulgarities into the art world. The main curator for the collective, Dan Baum, eventually convinced Hairy Who that they were competing not against each other, but against the rest of the world. This made them stronger as a collective, and more influential internationally.
The filmmakers capture the vitality and magic that Hairy Who brought to the world, and the aesthetic value is brilliant as well. I was impressed with the apparent effort that had gone into making this film, and would highly recommend any future screening.