Of all America's great cities, Chicago is unquestionably the most independent in artistic terms. In the 1940s, when the New York scene was turning to Abstract Expressionism, art circles in Chicago were delving into German Expression and Surrealism – and "primitive" art and Art Brut as well. Their interest in the latter was largely fuelled by the writings of German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn and French artist Jean Dubuffet, originator of the concept of Art Brut.
At his first Chicago retrospective, at the Arts Club in 1951, Dubuffet gave his famous Anticultural Positions talk, which triggered enormous interest among artists, experts and collectors. In the course of the year he entrusted his Art Brut collection to his painter friend Alfonso Ossorio, who lived in East Hampton, near New York. On show in Ossorio's mansion for the next ten years, the works were seen by influential members of New York art circles, among them the painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Clyfford Still.
In the 1960s a group of artists known as the "Chicago Imagists" – their number included Roger Brown, Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson – began collecting artworks that did not match official criteria. Very quickly Art Brut and Outsider Art gained the attention of the city's collectors, dealers and curators, and 1991 saw the founding of Intuit, a centre for American Outsider Art and Art Brut.
In Europe the Collection de l’Art Brut had opened to the public in 1976. Heir to the historic Dubuffet collection, this was the first Art Brut Museum, and in 1987 it began regular showings of works by Chicago artist Henry Darger. This was made possible by a remarkable donation from Kiyoko Lerner, widow of photographer Nathan Lerner, who had been Darger's landlord. Between them the Lerners had succeeded in saving this magisterial body of work.
And so Chicago Calling is a chance to (re)discover one of Art Brut's most celebrated American representatives, alongside five other self-taught Chicagoans working in the same naive vein: Lee Godie, Mr. Imagination, Pauline Simon, Wesley Willis and Joseph E. Yoakum. The exhibits come from Intuit and American private collections as well as, in Darger's case, the Collection de l’Art Brut.
The showing at the Collection de l’Art Brut brings together works selected by Sarah Lombardi from the exhibition curated by Kenneth C. Burkhart and Lisa Stone, and organised by Intuit, The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.