How Chicago! review – peanut-brained police patrol a curdled view of America

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London
Wildly graphic and often eye-poppingly nasty, the nightmarish creations of the Chicago Imagists echo the tumult of their era

The art of the Chicago Imagists of the 1960s and 70s provokes spluttering questions, and answers in a similar spirit. Incarnated as the Hairy Who, the Nonplussed Some, and various other names reminiscent of niche 60s rock groups before they made it big, the artists who came to be known as the Chicago Imagists (not a bad band name itself, come to think of it, if a bit too arty) were cartoonish and clever and possessed of a wayward graphic elan. Now at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in a Hayward travelling exhibition, this is the first UK show of their work in almost 40 years.

All alumni of, or teachers at, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fervent era of student protest, political assassinations and the Vietnam war, the Chicago Imagists were very much of their time and place. But little of the cataclysmic events surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago – with mayor Richard J Daley’s police running amok, and the air filled with teargas and Mace – got into their art, except by way of the curdled, visceral quality of many of their images.

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