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An Interview with Jim Nutt, by Russell Bowman

The main part of the interview with Jim Nutt that was striking to me was the interviewer's repeated attempts to define influences, to define something concrete about Nutt's style. By the end, I think the reader is satisfied with the idea that Nutt's aim in his art making was to produce images that assertively and aggressively blur the line between what's acceptable and what's not. In this sense, repeated themes or motifs such as vulgarity, sex, scatology, humor, and the use of language in puns and banners push against the viewer's expectations of non-confrontational art. Nutt also uses techniques to develop a confrontation between art and non-art, experimenting with framing, materials, painting on the back so that all sides are covered, and pushing images to object status.

It seems like Nutt, along with the Hairy Who, was trying to create art that goes against the mainstream and its pretensions, "an amused antipathy toward "high" art that gave the group its coherence" (132). It seems at odds that this group would be one of the few to bring Chicago art notoriety and attention on a national scale, with the Hairy Who members soon exhibiting at more traditional institutions. Nutt himself moved to Sacramento in 1968 and has continued making art apart from his previous identification with art collectives. Such a brief blip in the history of art in Chicago, yet an apparently strong one at that.

Was the dissidence in this art what was so attractive and important? Or is there something in the images as well? A feeling, perhaps, that these artists said something many people were thinking but were perhaps too private to utter? On the other hand, as Nutt said, these images were meant to be evocative, and in that function "evoke more than it is." This ambiguity of meaning makes me think that the performative aspect of the Hairy Who was what really made the headlines, and along with that performance is active dissidence in images, technique and form. It brings to mind the Sensation exhibition and other instances of scandal bringing patronage and exhibition attendance (and in the meantime, increasing the value of the art).

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