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Karl Wirsum (born 1939 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American artist. A member of the notorious Chicago artistic group The Hairy Who, he helped set the foundation for Chicago's art scene in the 1970s. Wirsum is primarily a painter, though he has worked with prints, sculpture and even digital art.
Wirsum was one of the earliest members of The Hairy Who (along with James Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, and Suellen Rocca). This group came to be known by the exhibition title of the same name, which was co-curated by Don Baum at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1966, and for which the group received national attention. Subsequent shows followed in 1967 and in 1968, of which the latter went from the Hyde Park Art Center to the San Francisco Art Institute. In the winter of 1968-69 there was a Hairy Who drawing show at the School of Visual Arts in NY. In the Spring of 1969 the last Hairy Who show was at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Dupont Center in Washington, DC.
By the early 1970s, several Hairy Who artists came to be known as Chicago Imagists, (a name for which critic Franz Schulz is credited for having developed) and this "group" expanded to include Ed Paschke, Roger Brown and Barbara Rossi, among others.
Numerous members of the Wirsum family are involved with making art. His wife Lorri Gunn is an accomplished artist, daughter Ruby Wirsum works in photography and ceramics, while son Zack Wirsum is a painter and was featured in New American Paintings #59.
Wirsum still lives in Chicago and works as a Full Adjunct Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The work of Wirsum and the artists of his generation has gone on to influence the course of art in America. American painter Eric Fischl has credited his exposure to the non-mainstream art of the Hairy Who as "revelatory experiences"
- Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, WI
- The Illinois Collection for the State of Illinois Center, Chicago, IL
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
- Museum des 20, Jahrhunderts, Vienna
- National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
- Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL
- David and Alfred Smart Gallery, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
- Union League Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Francis Summers. "The Hairy Who". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Retrieved June 21, 2010.