Chicago art project at Fondazione Prada

Last week I had the chance to visit the art spaces of Fondazione Prada in Milan. The venue is currently showing a research and information project on the Chicago art scene developed in the post-war era. The project has been curated by Italian art historian Germano Celant. The project is focused on the employment of a painting style characterised by a political commitment, figurative narratives and radical graphics that have been rejected by New York’s mainstream culture. The exhibition is structured around three thematic sections, all of them devoted to two generations of artists formed in Chicago between the 1950s and 60s. Fondazione Prada also aims to state that these artistic moments have influenced new generations, from graffiti to neo-digital artists. 


I. Leon Golub marks the first part of the project. The exhibition explores two complementary aspects of the artist’s production, displaying 22 acrylic paintings on canvas of monumental dimensions, and more than 58 photographs printed on transparent paper. Golub created a personal approach to figurative painting, separating himself from the dominant styles of New York School’s Action Painting and Abstract Expressionism. The show focuses on the political aspects of his work, which aim to criticise the brutality of war, racism, torture and violence against women. The rough realism has been transferred onto photographic transparencies, in which the artist manipulated existing images of the same dramatic and tragic subjects. 

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II. The second exhibition section is devoted to H.C. Westermannshowing 53 sculptures and a selection of paperworks. Westermann began his career in Chicago, after serving in the army as a Marine in the South Pacific and in Korea. The exhibition explores his approach to wood carving which he derived from traditional carpentry. The works are marked by a refusal of formalism and a nostalgic look on old America, along with a critical gaze on the brutality of present times. His fundamental elements include sense of humour, wordplay, sexual references and a surrealist’s taste for enigma and manipulation. Regarding the contemporary art scene, his work can be considered as a source of inspiration for the current visual languages, from Jeff Koons to KAWS.

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III. The last section of the project is titled “Famous Artists from Chicago. 1965-1975” and it has been conceived as an in-depth analysis of the artists that have been active throughout the 1960s and 70s. The displayed artists have been featured in shows that questioned traditional exhibition set-up and presentation conventions, organised at the Hyde Park Art Centre in Chicago. The exhibition at Fondazione Prada depicts the energy of the cultural environment of this American city as a centre of figurative production. Some artists, known as Chicago Imagists (Roger Brown, Ed Flood, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, etc.) had identified the roots of their personal research in Surrealism and Art Brut, can be seen as anticipations of new tendencies in the 1980s and 90s, from Graffiti to Street Art. Starting from this artist collective in the central space, the exhibition leads to nine individual rooms in which the language of the artists is investigated. There certainly exist differences in style and technique among the artists, a common sense for figuration, irony, sense of humour and a distancing from academic traditions can be noticed.

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  • Click here for more information about all projects happening at Fondazione Prada.
  • Adress: Largo Isarco 2, 20139 Milan, Italy
  • Exhibition duration: 20 October 2017 – 15 January 2018 

All photos by Judith Bradlwarter. ©

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