Judy Chicago

(b. 1939)

About The Artist

Cited as one the most important figures in the genesis of feminist art, Judy Chicago has built a complex body of work that examines the gendering of both artistic and physical spaces. Prior to 1973, when she developed her "core" feminine imagery, Chicago rigorously examined the limits of color. Operating within strict geometric forms and patterns, the artist used color as an agent for scrutinizing the nature of perception. In 1964, Chicago earned her MFA in painting and sculpture from the University of California, Los Angeles. During her time as a student, the artist had shown an early interest in "biomorphic and sexually suggestive forms" but was met with strong objections by the program's faculty, for both her work's overtly feminine and potentially erotic representations. Upon graduating and embedding herself in the Los Angeles exhibition circuit, Chicago faced a culture dominated by macho practices and personalities. In response, she temporarily muffled any impulse to depict personal narrative within her work, and set her sights on building a reputation as an "ambitious, serious artist" in order to "beat the guys at their own game." Seeking out a mastery of traditionally ‘masculine' materials that were gaining popularity within the art world, she took boat-building classes, acquired power tools, learned to cast fiberglass, apprenticed at a fireworks company, and enrolled in an auto body course in which she was the only woman among 250 students.

Chicago's early work, Rainbow Pickett (1965), was featured in the iconic exhibition "Primary Structures" at the Jewish Museum in New York. While her work at this stage was devoid of explicit feminist content, Chicago's use of minimalist aesthetics as a vehicle for the study of color, reveals her covert resistance to the conceptual norms of the movement. In many ways, her treatment of the form challenged and emasculated the accepted artistic exchange between minimalist objects and their viewers.

Following her interest in minimalism, Chicago turned her attention to the Finish Fetish style that had emerged in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Along with the "intimate" scale and soft round shapes featured in her works of this period, the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition "Chicago in L.A." pointed to Chicago's use of the triangle formation as an early evocation of the vaginal euphemism that would later become a signature motif for the artist, as demonstrated by her seminal installation, The Dinner Party (1974-79). The artist's ongoing negotiation of color hues is also said to have illustrated her interest in representing feminine erotic energy. This visual relationship was typified by Chicago's Atmospheres, in which colored smoke was released into various environments to "feminize" the space.

Following years of attempting to conform to the misogynistic mandates of her field, Chicago experienced a "self-transformation." In 1970, she performed her first public act of resisting patriarchal systems by abandoning the name of her late husband, Gerowitz, and adopting the surname Chicago, in honor of her hometown. She announced her new name in a flier for a solo show, featuring a mock boxing publicity shot in which she adopted a physical and social posture of brawn and confrontation. In the following years, Chicago immersed herself in the feminist discourse, developing feminist art courses at Fresno State College and CalArts in Valencia. In 1972, she executed the series, "Great Ladies," depicting powerful women of history through abstract vibrating forms, and the following year she founded the feminist art gallery, Womanhouse. Chicago increasingly rejected the cult of personality that surrounded major male artists and instead embraced the collective nature of craft traditions that had long been dismissed as ‘women's work.' This spirit of collaboration and inclusivity helped realize some of Chicago's greatest pieces and has permeated her modern practice.

Today Chicago's works are held in the collections of the British Museum, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others.

"Early Work/Minimal (1965-73)." Judy Chicago, www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-workminimal/ew-artwork/.

Johnson, Ken. "The Breakfast That Preceded ‘The Dinner Party.'" The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2014, p. 30.

Martinique, Elena. "8 Early Works by Judy Chicago, Created During the Cool Years of Los Angeles." Widewalls, 15 July 2018, www.widewalls.ch/judy-chicago-early-works-villa-arson/.

Weiss, Sasha. "Judy Chicago, the Godmother." The New York Times, 07 Feb 2018.

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