Jim Nutt makes unusual, beautiful paintings. His show at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, which opens to the public on Saturday, is impressive, worthy and an exercise in looking. Slowly and meticulously, Nutt sometimes takes a year to complete a single portrait. And it's portraits of imaginary women that have been Nutt's forte for decades.
The slowness, the single haired brushes dipped in thinned acrylic, yields a richness not customary in contemporary paintings. There is a field-day of activity in the details. Beyond the irregular beauty of the women he renders, I'm drawn to the geometric hash-marks reminiscent of early Jasper Johns.
There is a direct relationship between how much energy and time an artist puts in his or her work and the amount of time a viewer spends looking, which is why I stress the slowness. This is work to be studied and looked at up close, getting lost within the work and allowing it the enable a meditative respect.
In mining feminine portraiture, Nutt pursues a quirky excellence that is his alone. Within his consistency is a range of composition, detail, and secondary imagery that transcend the more common portraiture than I'm familiar with.
Jim Nutt is a lifelong Chicagoan, a founding member of the Hairy Who, and anchor to the Imagists. With Madeleine Grynsztejn at the Museum's helm, the MCA is more responsive to the community and the artists within it. Thus an auxiliary exhibit, which is full-fledged informative on its own, draws on the MCA's collection and exhibits local artists in the company of major international figures. On the whole local looks damned good.
The companion exhibit to the Nutt retrospective discusses portraiture and includes art that resonate with Nutt's, either because the pieces are sympathetic, or because the artists who made them were influenced by him.
There's a lot to think about and appreciate in the shows. Slow down and let it happen.
Thanks for reading - and looking,
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