RIVER NORTH — Barbie — people sure get heated over 11½ inches of plastic.
"Nobody has a neutral feeling about her. Either they love her, or they hate her, and that was always interesting to me, to hear the response," said Judy Ragagli, a Los Angeles-based painter who's devoted her professional life to capturing vintage Barbies on canvas.
Her collection of hyper-realistic, though oddly surreal, oil paintings is on display in Chicago for the first time through April 19 after stints in Australia, Korea, the U.K., Canada and across the United States.
Ragagli's work will be showcased at Utopic, 420 N. Wabash Ave., an unconventional gallery space in River North that doubles as the multimedia company's office space.
Utopic's art curator, Donny Smutz, said he immediately was struck by Ragagli's work and invited her to feature it in its rotating art showcase.
"It's so unique. I mean, who does vintage Barbie paintings with oil on canvas? I don't know anybody," said Smutz, also a visual artist. "Some people think its creepy, but I love it."
Utopic is a digital media company, but it has wall space it uses as a mini-gallery to host two to three shows per year, Smutz said. Members of the public are welcome to visit the display between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., though Utopic requests that they schedule an appointment for a viewing.
Ragagli said she's especially excited for her Barbies to come to the Windy City, where her family used to live. The youngest of four girls, she's the only one who was born outside of Chicago.
"I love Chicago. I love the people, the food is great, it's just an exciting city, and it has a lot of history," she said.
She also joked that she'll be checking out more than artwork if she comes to town.
"Guys in Chicago are so nice," she said. "My mom would probably love it if I met a guy from Chicago. She thinks they're family-oriented and solid, and just good ... totally different from L.A. guys."