CHICAGO NO-JURY SOCIETY OF ARTISTS

 

Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists (May 1922)  This society was organized following a successful show in 1921 of the Salon des Refuses held at the Rothschild’s Department Store in Chicago,  and an exhibit of 150 paintings during the Pageant of Progress at Municipal Pier.  A precursor in Chicago to the no jury show was an exhibit in 1903 by the Society of Associated Arts. These two later exhibits were without juries. The founders were Carl Hoeckner, Raymond Jonson and Rudolph Weisenborn, the first President. The name No-Jury was nine years later ascribed to artist Helen West Heller.  Their first catalog stated “standards of the past...are chains by which the free development of art is hampered.” Technique was less important than “honest, spiritual content.” Their first shows were held at the Marshall Field & Co. gallery where about 200 artists exhibited. Exhibitors in the NJSA were also frequent exhibitors at the more conservative Art Institute, Chicago & Vicinity shows. Artists from around the country exhibited including John Sloan. The inclusion of artists outside Chicago added a somewhat competitive aspect to the shows.  The Society had planned on securing permanent exhibition space but was never successful in this effort.  By 1924 the Art Institute liberalized its jury which had a substantial impact in drawing away works from the No-Jury shows.  The next year, critic Samuel Putnam urged a group of the artists attending a rally prior to their next show to make a decision; either submit to the Art Institute juried shows or submit to the No-Jury shows, but not both.  The No-Jury shows soon were noted to be of very uneven quality due to the lack of the jury process. One article commented on the 1926 show, “Here we discover how many persons with little or no instruction are dabbling away with pain in the privacy of their attics or back yards, how still larger is the number of those who, though better equipped, are just hanging on the fringe of real art.”  Critic Putnam remained ecstatic encouraging the artists with his strong criticisms.  Influential critic C. J. Bulliet denuded the show of 1928 by calling it tame and later commented it was no different from the regular Art Institute show, as similar as “tweedle dee and tweedle dum,” a “fiasco”.  The 1928-1929 show, however, rebounded in Bulliet’s important eyes as he considered it much more charged with newness than had been the case for several years.  Anyone could enter the shows by paying a $2 fee per painting. If an artist wanted an illustration in the catalogue, that could be had for another $2 fee.  The charge was later changed to $4, which included a two dollar membership fee and entitled the exhibitor to show two works not more than forty inches in height or width.  The 1930 show was considered by art critic Eleanor Jewett to be rather conservative in comparison to past shows of modern art.  In 1933, then president V. M. S. Hannell and the board decided there should be no show and even questioned the efficacy of another show given the success of the open air Art Mart.  Around the same time or shortly thereafter, all the accumulated funds of the organization were lost in a bank failure due to the Depression. While it seemed the organization would pass quietly into the past, a Chicago sculptor/woodcarver named Tud Kempf decided there was a need for the group and recharged the organization late in 1933.  The shows restarted with the “eleventh annual” on July 9, 1934.  However, by the fall 1934, a subversive group of artists from the John Reed Club took control of the organization by consolidating votes for directors.  The shows became biennial for a time,  and continued through the war. Controversy continued to be a hallmark of the group when the 1936 show scheduled to be hung at the Fair Store was withdrawn because the store managers objected to hanging nudes.  After a successful thirteenth show the group decided to offer sketch classes to members.  Beginning in 1942, they became annual summer events.  In 1957 a show totaling 1,525 artists was the largest ever of the No-Jury exhibitions. It came under the auspices of the City of Chicago, and oddly enough, the Art Institute of Chicago. There was another exhibition held in 1958, the last catalogue which has been discovered and perhaps the last show of this name. [Extensive footnotes on this organization in the Illinois Historical Art Project}

EXHIBITION CATALOGUE FROM FIRST ANNUAL SHOW 1922 IHAP LIBRARY

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