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Artists Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago Photo

Judy Chicago

American Painter, Sculptor, and Installation Artist

Movements and Styles: Feminist Art, Installation Art

Born: July 20, 1939 - Chicago, Illinois

Judy Chicago Timeline

Quotes

"Women's history and women's art needs to become part of our cultural and intellectual heritage."
Judy Chicago
"I could no longer pretend in my art that being a woman had no meaning."
Judy Chicago
"There has to be more room for us as artists. We have to be able to be seen in our fullness in terms of our own artistic agency, and we're a long way from that."
Judy Chicago
"Because we are denied knowledge of our history, we are deprived of standing upon each other's shoulders and building upon each other's hard earned accomplishments. Instead we are condemned to repeat what others have done before us and thus we continually reinvent the wheel. The goal of The Dinner Party is to break this cycle."
Judy Chicago

"I believe in art that is connected to real human feeling, that extends itself beyond the limits of the art world to embrace all people who are striving for alternatives in an increasingly dehumanized world. I am trying to make art that relates to the deepest and most mythic concerns of human kind and I believe that, at this moment of history, feminism is humanism."

Judy Chicago Signature

Synopsis

Judy Chicago was one of the pioneers of Feminist art in the 1970s, a movement that endeavored to reflect women's lives, call attention to women's roles as artists, and alter the conditions under which contemporary art was produced and received. In the process, Feminist art questioned the authority of the male-dominated Western canon and posed one of the most significant challenges to modernism, which was at the time wholly preoccupied with conditions of formalism as opposed to personal narrative and political activity. Seeking to redress women's traditional underrepresentation in the visual arts, Chicago focused on female subject matter, most famously in her work The Dinner Party (1979), which celebrates the achievements of women throughout history, scandalizing audiences with her frank use of vaginal imagery. In her work, Chicago employed the "feminine" arts long relegated to the lowest rungs of the artistic hierarchy, such as needlework and embroidery. Chicago articulated her feminist vision not only as an artist, but also as an educator and organizer, most notably, in co-founding of the Feminist Art Program at Cal State Fresno as well as the installation and performance space, Womanhouse.

Key Ideas

Inspired by the women's movement and rebelling against the male-dominated art scene of the 1960s, which lionized the Minimalist work of artists like Donald Judd, Chicago embraced explicitly female content. Creating works that recognized the achievements of major female historical figures or celebrated women's unique experiences, Chicago produced a rich body of work that sought to add women to the historic record and, more generally, to enhance their representation in the visual arts.
Just as she elevated explicitly female subject matter, Chicago embraced artistic media whose creators were exclusively or mainly women and (perhaps not coincidentally) dismissed by the high art world as merely "craft." Art forms such as needlework, ceramic decoration, and glass art are central to Chicago's work, often included alongside traditional high art media, such as painting. Works such as The Dinner Party helped validate the importance of crafts-based art forms and break down the boundaries separating them from their "high" art counterparts.
Along with fellow artist Miriam Schapiro, Chicago co-founded several pioneering ventures that sought to change the structure of women's artistic training, as well as broaden their access to, and visibility in, contemporary art. The women-only Feminist Art program, established at California Institute of Arts, centered on women's identity, experiences, and collaborative, discussion-based practices such as consciousness-raising. Womanhouse, co-founded by Chicago and Schapiro as an outgrowth of the Feminist Art program, was an installation and performance space dedicated to female creative expression.

Biography

Judy Chicago Photo

Childhood

Judy Chicago was born Judy Cohen in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois, in the last year of the Great Depression. She grew up in a liberal environment; unusual for the time, her intellectual Jewish parents both worked to support their children and openly articulated their left-wing politics. Chicago began drawing at the age of three and attending classes at the Institute of Chicago starting in 1947. In 1948, her father, Arthur Cohen, left his union job in the midst of the McCarthy blacklist and the controversy surrounding the family's "Communist" leanings. Two years later, he died from a massive stomach ulcer.

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Judy Chicago Biography Continues

Important Art by Judy Chicago

The below artworks are the most important by Judy Chicago - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Domes (1968)
Artwork Images

Domes (1968)

Artwork description & Analysis: Composed of three dome-like forms and using transparent material with spray-on plastic, this piece is rendered in the Minimalist style of Chicago's early work. Its use of repeated shapes and glossy, "industrial" media suggest the work of artists such as Donald Judd, though there is significant contrast to the hard, geometric forms of Judd and his contemporaries in the deployment of softer, rounded forms that suggest a kind of ambiguous femininity. Critic Susan Jenkins suggests that the work prefigures the "purely feminist idiom" that was to come: the three domes make up what came to be Chicago's signature stylistic motif, the triangle, closely associated with vaginal imagery in Chicago's oeuvre.

Sprayed acrylic lacquer inside clear acrylic - EDG, Exhibits Development Group

Through the Flower (1973)
Artwork Images

Through the Flower (1973)

Artwork description & Analysis: Created by the artist after Chicago's decade-long "struggl[e]... in a male-dominated art community," Through the Flower marks the artist's newfound embrace of less abstract and more accessible imagery: the female sexual organ, depicted here as a round element or opening. The painting's "trippy" opticality relates at least in part to the artist's experience with mood-altering drugs. The subject matter is radical: genitals were always demurely concealed or merely suggested in the tradition of the female nude, yet here the vaginal opening constitutes the focus of the work. Through the Flower is one of the landmark pieces of Chicago's early feminist phase. It serves as the title and cover of the artist's 1975 autobiography as well as the name of the non-profit feminist art organization she founded in 1978.

Sprayed acrylic on canvas

The Dinner Party (1979)
Artwork Images

The Dinner Party (1979)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Dinner Party is a monumental installation celebrating forgotten achievements in female history. Chicago described it as, "as a reinterpretation of The Last Supper from the point of view of women, who, throughout history, have prepared the meals and set the table." The central form is a forty-eight-foot triangular table with symbolic places set for thirty-nine "guests of honor"—remarkable women from different stages in Western civilization. Each guest has her own runner, embroidered on one side with her name and on the other with imagery illustrating her achievement. Each place setting includes a glass plate, decorated with a butterfly or floral motif symbolizing the vulva. By incorporating elements of a contemporary social event with the status and appearance of a banquet, Chicago elevates her guests to the role of heroes, a traditionally male epithet. In essence, Chicago states, the work "takes us on a tour of Western civilization, a tour that bypasses what we have been taught to think of as the main road." The floor is inscribed with the names of 999 additional women worthy of recognition, while acknowledgment panels on the walls honor the 129 collaborators who worked with Chicago on the piece.

Regarded as an icon of 20th-century art, The Dinner Party is arguably the most significant and recognized piece of feminist art ever made, notable in its incorporation of collaborative working process, political symbolism, the sheer scale of the media response, and the unprecedented worldwide grassroots movement it prompted in reaction to the work's condemnation. The piece's lasting importance lies in its defiance of fine-art tradition by representing a feminine history suppressed by patriarchal society, as well as its celebration of the traditional "feminine" crafts: textile arts (weaving, embroidery, and sewing) and ceramic decoration. Featured in sixteen exhibitions in six different countries, The Dinner Party has now been seen by more than one million viewers.

Ceramic, porcelain, textile, glass - Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Judy Chicago
Interactive chart with Judy Chicago's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Louise NevelsonLouise Nevelson
Lee BontecouLee Bontecou
Frida KahloFrida Kahlo
Miriam SchapiroMiriam Schapiro

Personal Contacts

Anais NinAnais Nin
Lucy LippardLucy Lippard
Allan KaprowAllan Kaprow

Movements

MinimalismMinimalism
Performance ArtPerformance Art
Arts and Crafts MovementArts and Crafts Movement

Influences on Artist
Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago
Years Worked: 1964 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Suzanne LacySuzanne Lacy
Martha RoslerMartha Rosler
Edward Lucie-SmithEdward Lucie-Smith

Personal Contacts

Lucy LippardLucy Lippard
Arlene RavenArlene Raven
Sheila de BrettevilleSheila de Bretteville

Movements

MinimalismMinimalism
Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art
PostmodernismPostmodernism

Useful Resources on Judy Chicago

Videos

Books

Articles

Audio

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Becoming Judy Chicago; A Biography of the artist Recomended resource

By Gail Levin

Judy Chicago, An American Vision

By Edward Lucie Smith

written by artist

The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979

Embroidering Our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework, 1980

More Interesting Books about Judy Chicago
A place at the table

By Gail Levin
New York Times
March 4, 2007

Feminist, Political Artist Judy Chicago Is Thriving When Feminism and Political Art Aren't Recomended resource

By Phoebe Hoban
The New York Observer
March 9, 2011

Penn State receives Judy Chicago Art Education Collections

By By B Stephen Carpenter II
June 8, 2011

Judy Chicago talks about her work

As part of the Visiting Artists Lecture Series, B Project at The Carpenter Performing Arts Centre, CA

A conversation between Suzanne Lacy and Judy Chicago Recomended resource

At The Otis College of Art and Design and the Skirball Cultural Center

Judy Chicago talks about Frida Kahlo

Chicago talking about her experiences living as a woman artist in LA

Interview by Q TV in Canada

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Sarah Jenkins

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Jenkins
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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