Chicago We Own It

June 29, 2018–January 6, 2019
Curated by Bill Swislow

To say there is a Chicago school of art collecting may be an overstatement, but there does seem to be a Chicago style of collecting, characterized by an acquisitive eye and a hunger to spot creativity wherever and however it turns up, no matter how unlikely the setting and without much regard to anxieties about aesthetic categories or theories.

It’s not hard to draw a direct line from that generosity of taste to the discovery and cultivation of the artists featured in Chicago Calling: Henry Darger, Lee Godie, Wesley Willis, Joseph Yoakum and the others. That line also encompasses a vast number of anonymous creators as well as artists who are known but haven’t won acclaim at the level of these canonical geniuses. This other creativity can be just as striking, and it has found entrée into many collections, if not as many museums.

This style of collecting inspires a certain way of displaying the stuff, epitomized by the homes of such influential artist-collectors as Roger Brown and Ray Yoshida. Quantity makes packing shelves with objects a practical necessity, and those crowded shelves, unified only by the collector’s eye, make an aesthetic statement in their own right. So do the nearby paintings typically hung “salon style,” a euphemism for the kind of high-density display seen in this Chicago We Own It exhibit. That title, it should be said, is inspired by a favorite phrase of canonical Chicago artist Lee Godie, which also serves nicely as a slogan for those Chicago collectors to whose acquisitiveness we owe this show.