James Yood reviews Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago at the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, on view through June 12, 2016.
Yood writes: "... seeing the work [of the Monster Roster artists] together, as it so rarely was during its creation or since, is a valuable experience. As the exhibition’s title indicates, the curators buy into—as I think they should—similar arguments made about Abstract Expressionism in New York during the same period: that this was a charged moment in art history when existence and art-making seemed a matter of life and death, when the question on many lips was, 'Should I die or should I paint?' As Harold Rosenberg (who later taught at the University of Chicago) put it, 'painting became the means of confronting in daily practice the problematic nature of modern individuality.' Note Rosenberg’s decisive word choice, not the 'potentially problematic nature...' not the 'sometimes problematic nature...' but straight out and blatant, modern individuality was problematic. Art-making was serious stuff, a sensibility that permeated and obsessed all these artists, formed in the dramatic crucible of the 1930s and 1940s."