August 6 – September 2, 2020
August 6 – September 2, 2020
Garth Greenan Gallery is pleased to announce the gallery’s first online viewing room, Gladys Nilsson: Alone, an exhibition of works on paper. Opening on August 6, 2020, the exhibition features a selection of drawings that Nilsson completed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns across the United States.
While difficult, the period has been one of the artist’s most prolific. Nilsson has completed an average of one work every 36 hours. “There was nothing else I wanted to do,” she said of her daily practice.
Nilsson often depicts an unstable Cartesian duality: her female figures struggle to gain control of their unruly bodies. Each is simultaneously estranged from and defined by their physicality. The solitude of quarantine, and of these particular images, draws out that complex and often humorous dynamic, as well as the strange ways that body, mind, and setting blend together and interact.
Unlike the artist’s typical works, packed to the brim with winding and playfully interacting figures, each drawing contains a solitary woman. “If I was alone,” Nilsson said, “they'd have to be as well.”
The series acts as a microcosm of emotion. From work to work, the women vacillate between trepidation and foreboding, from psychotic boredom to fleeting moments of elation and even vanity. The emotional journey will be familiar to those who spent months on end confined to their homes.
In one image, a skirted woman crawls through dark ankle-deep water, her legs and arms twisting into a Gordian knot. Nilsson’s figures often contort themselves to keep within the 14-by-20-inch boundaries. Like many works in the series, this scene is pervaded by an undercurrent of anxiety that’s leavened by Nilsson’s hallmark sense of humor. The woman’s eyes are cattywampus, and colorful bubbles dance around her head, as if to signal a vaporous or vacuous mental state.
Nilsson herself expressed gratitude for her relative comfort in her Chicago home, and for her husband the artist Jim Nutt’s company, but described her increasing longing for the library, the opera, the museum, and for casual conversations with grocers, baristas, and strangers, which no doubt contributed to the emotional arc of the series.
“I ran out of large canvases just prior to shutdown,” she noted, drawing attention to the way the physical reality of the pandemic merged with her artistic choices. “Are the figures asking to be let out into a larger venue?”
Nilsson first came to prominence in 1966, when she joined five other recent School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduates (James Falconer, Art Green, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum) for the first of a series of group exhibitions called the Hairy Who. She was the first member of the group—and one of the first women in history—to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1973.
In 1990, Nilsson accepted a teaching position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is now a professor.
Since 1966, Nilsson’s work has been the subject of more than fifty solo exhibitions, including sixteen at Phyllis Kind Gallery (1970–1979, 1981–1983, 1987, 1991, and 1994, Chicago and New York), two at The Candy Store (1971 and 1987, Folsom, California), and one at Hales Gallery (2019, London). Her work has also been featured in many important museum exhibitions, such as Human Concern/Personal Torment (1969, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York); Who Chicago? (1981, Camden Art Center, London); Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art (1992, Los Angeles County Museum of Art); Chicago Imagists (2011, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin); and What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present (2014, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence). Most recently, Nilsson’s work appeared in The Candy Store (2018, Parker Gallery, Los Angeles), Hairy Who? 1966–1969 (2018–2019, School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Chicago Imagists from the Phyllis Kind Collection (2019, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago), and How Chicago! Imagists 1960s–1970s (2019, Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, University of London).
Nilsson’s work is featured in the collections of major museums around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Morgan Library, New York; the Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
Garth Greenan Gallery is pleased to represent Gladys Nilsson.
Gladys Nilsson: Alone will be available to view online, through Wednesday, September 2, 2020. The gallery is currently open by appointment only. For more information, please contact Garth Greenan at (212) 929-1351, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.