Elmhurst Art Museum scores with exhibit mixing pinball, Imagist art
A family vacation in Las Vegas led to Jenny Gibbs' moment of inspiration.
"It was 108 degrees, and we are looking for the coolest, darkest family-friendly place we can find," recalls the executive director of the Elmhurst Art Museum. "That would be the Pinball Hall of Fame, which was the site of an epiphany when I learned that all of the great artwork and machines came from Chicago."
Flash forward several years, and that epiphany became the basis for an interactive world-premiere exhibition combining two of Chicago's greatest exports: pinball and Imagist art. The highly anticipated exhibit, "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," just opened and runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.
Guests can play Chicago-built pinball machines from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, including on machines produced by the Gottlieb family, pinball manufacturers who came from Elmhurst and established Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park. The exhibit also features machine-inspired paintings, sculptures and prints, including works by Imagist artists Roger Brown, Ed Flood, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt and Ed Paschke.
Many of the world's finest pinball machines were made on Chicago's North Side. "Pinball has deep roots in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, where many manufacturers and designers were located around the same time," museum exhibit curator Dan Nadal said.
With high-contrast coloration, absurd juxtapositions and ultra-flat forms, the machines were a popular source of inspiration for a group of local artists. The Imagists, as they were known, had studied together and were inspired by Chicago's distinct styles -- seen in things such as amusement park rides and the popular Riverview Park, arcades and the city's burlesque scene, Gibbs said. Paschke, one of the great post-Pop American painters, was included in this group.
Their style featured use of strong color and flat, comic-book like graphics. "There was a real sense of play," Gibbs said.
Gibbs knew the Elmhurst Art Museum was the perfect spot to host such an exhibit, particularly after learning of the local connection with the Gottlieb family.
"I was in this huge warehouse in the middle of the desert, surrounded by these machines," she recalls. "It was visually so rich and so overwhelming. Imagine my surprise when I started reading the labels next to the machines and most were Gottlieb machines, all made and designed by artists in Chicago. When I learned the Gottlieb family was from Elmhurst, I knew this show was meant to be here."
After doing a little research, she learned that artist Paschke had curated a show of pinball art in 1982 at the Chicago Cultural Center. No one had done anything since then, and it seemed like a perfect time to revive it, Gibbs said.
"Expect the exhibit to be really colorful, immersive and fun," she said. "We have about a dozen of the vintage machines, many of which are playable. You're going to have the bells ringing and music playing and lights flashing."
Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and ChicagoWhere: Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst, (630) 834-0202, elmhurstartmuseum.org
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; closed Monday. Runs through May 7.
Admission: General admission is $9, $8 for seniors and free for students and kids younger than 18.