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​‘Barbara Rossi’s: Poor Traits’ and ‘Eye Owe You!’ open at DePaul Art Museum May 12

CHICAGO Chicago artist Barbara Rossi’s enigmatic drawings and meticulous Plexiglas paintings will be featured at the DePaul Art Museum May 12 through Aug. 21. Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits” is organized by Natalie Bell at the New Museum in New York and marks the most significant presentation of the artist’s work in 25 years. A companion exhibition, “Eye Owe You!” will highlight Rossi’s photographs and artistic process.

Barbara’s stunning abstract paintings and drawings from the late 1960s and early 1970s look as fresh today as when she made them,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, director and chief curator of the DePaul Art Museum. The exhibition aligns very well with the DePaul Art Museum’s commitment to featuring Chicago-based artists, especially those who have been under-recognized,” said Widholm.

Rossi was born in 1940 in Chicago and raised Catholic; she spent many years working as an artist while part of a convent. Rossi was a member of the Chicago Imagists, an influential group defined by their common interest in non-Western and popular imagery and a dedicated pursuit of vivid and distorted figurative work. Within this eclectic troupe, Rossi’s disorienting compositions distinguish themselves by their precision and subtlety, explained Widholm. I am very excited to present such important work by an older female artist to a new generation of museum visitors who may not be familiar with her work,” said Widholm.

According to the curators, the drawings presented in this exhibition are examples from when Rossi began to articulate an independent visual language. Her process became open and introspective, and the results are mischievous, psychedelic portraits. The baroque characters in Rossi’s reverse Plexiglas paintings appear as bodies depicted from the inside out. In these paintings, Rossi applied precise lines and uniform fields of color to the back of the panel in a technique that does not allow for revision or overpainting, but enhances their luminous kaleidoscopic textures.

DePaul Art Museum has organized a companion exhibition, “Eye Owe You!” in close collaboration with Rossi as a way to illuminate her working process. The exhibition features 122 of Rossi’s photographs that have never been exhibited before. This personal archive of visual culture has informed her work for 40 years and also captures an important bygone era in Chicago’s visual urban landscape. Rossi earned her MFA from the School of the Art Institute, where she has taught drawing and painting since 1971.

Many of Barbara’s students fondly remember her photo ‘show and tell’ sessions that prompted them to examine what, how, and why certain things piqued their visual interest,” said Widholm.

The images from 1971 to 1975 included in the exhibition are from Rossi’s vast collection of 35mm slides and align with the dates of the paintings in “Poor Traits.” Arranged by the artist in a specific sequence to correlate one image to the next, they document hand-painted outdoor signs and window displays in Chicago and cities around the world. A limited edition artist’s book of these images will be published by DePaul Art Museum. 

Rossi has exhibited internationally, and her works are in the collections of the DePaul Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago; the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; the Milwaukee Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the David and Alfred Smart Museum, the University of Chicago; and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C. 

The DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the CTA’s Fullerton ‘L’ stop. The museum hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more on the DePaul Art Museum’s upcoming exhibitions and events, call 773-325-7506 or visit


Julie Rodrigues Widholm

Media Contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews