Barbara Rossi first exhibited her work in late-1960s Chicago, where she became associated with a number of young artists known as the Chicago Imagists who shared an interest in non-Western and popular imagery and the pursuit of vivid, figurative work often coupled with humorous gags or puns. Rossi’s delirious innovations, however, are idiosyncratic even among an eclectic set of peers.
In her early drawings, Rossi turned inward to find a visual language independent of contemporary tendencies and art historical traditions. Mining her own unconscious in an open and spontaneous process, Rossi’s semi-automatist approach yielded a surreal morphology in which sporadic figurative suggestions transform wandering lines into hallucinatory portraits. The characters that populate Rossi’s reverse Plexiglas paintings elaborate the drifting physiognomy that surfaced in these early improvised drawings. Biomorphic contours seem to depict bodies from the inside out, producing haptic renderings that churn with erotic knobs and bulges that suggest folds of skin or mounds of flesh. Filled with flat colors and twisted into shifting silhouettes, Rossi’s shapes contort with prolonged viewing. Other paintings introduce more stable, angular figures, highlighting Rossi’s graphic sensibility and obsessive dedication to craft and finish. In contrast to the cartoonlike antics of these works, Rossi’s approach to composition and technique emerged from her interest in vernacular devotional images and appreciation of art as a conduit of complex mental states.
“Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits” will mark Rossi’s first museum exhibition in New York as well as the most significant presentation of her work since the early 1990s. The exhibition is curated by Natalie Bell, Assistant Curator.
Barbara Rossi was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, where she lives and works. Since 1971, she has taught painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also received her MFA. Rossi has exhibited internationally and her works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; the Milwaukee Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC.
Support for “Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits” is provided by Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, Charles and Kathleen Harper, Laura Skoler, Michael J. Robertson and Christopher A. Slapak, and an anonymous gift.
The Producers Council of the New Museum is gratefully acknowledged.
The accompanying exhibition publication is made possible, in part, by the J. McSweeney and G. Mills Publications Fund at the New Museum.