Elmhurst Art Museum scores with exhibit mixing pinball, Imagist art

  • Jenny Gibbs, executive director, right, and Suellen Rocca, artist, at the Elmhurst Art Museum exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago." Rocca is also curator and director of exhibits at Elmhurst College.

      Jenny Gibbs, executive director, right, and Suellen Rocca, artist, at the Elmhurst Art Museum exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago." Rocca is also curator and director of exhibits at Elmhurst College. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Karl Wirsum's "Oh My Milo! That Ain't No Horsefly" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

    Karl Wirsum's "Oh My Milo! That Ain't No Horsefly" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Courtesy of the Illinois State Museum Fine Art Collection

  • Ed Flood's "Silver Crown" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

    Ed Flood's "Silver Crown" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Courtesy of the Roger Brown Study Collection

  • "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

      "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Visitors can play the pinball machines at "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," an exhibit running through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

      Visitors can play the pinball machines at "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," an exhibit running through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

      "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • The Blackout pinball machine was inspired by the painting with the same title by Ed Paschke. Both are part of the "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

      The Blackout pinball machine was inspired by the painting with the same title by Ed Paschke. Both are part of the "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Amy Fuller
afuller@dailyherald.com
Updated 3/3/2017 6:56 AM

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.

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Ed Paschke's "Cobmaster" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum.
Ed Paschke's "Cobmaster" is part of the exhibit "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago," which runs through May 7 at the Elmhurst Art Museum. - Courtesy of Elmhurst College Art Collection

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."

Chloe Wicklas and Charlie Bertrand, students at College of DuPage, take a look at "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" at the Elmhurst Art Museum.
  Chloe Wicklas and Charlie Bertrand, students at College of DuPage, take a look at "Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago" at the Elmhurst Art Museum. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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."

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