“The Dinner Party”, a triangular table set for 39 singular women – Virginia Woolf, Sojourner Truth and Georgia O’Keeffe among them – with the names of nearly a thousand others on the floor all around, in porcelain and works needle, has a spiritual, “Last Supper” quality, intentionally. “I wanted to substitute female heroes for male heroes,” artist Judy Chicago said of her work.
Women volunteers did the sewing. “All these anonymous stitchers in the ecclesiastical embroidery class making garments in praise of male power, male deity – what if we take our own techniques and put them to work for our own accomplishments?” She told correspondent Martha Teichner. “He tells this story of centuries of struggle, of success, of erasure; of struggle, of accomplishment, of erasure.
Considered shocking and provocative when it first aired in 1979, it was gutted by critics (mostly male). One of them called her “vaginas on plates”. Today, he’s considered an icon of feminist art – since 2007, with pride of place in his own gallery at the Brooklyn Museum.
Chicago said, “I used to say, ‘I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see the body, the immense body of my art, emerge from the shadow of’ The Dinner Party ‘!
A retrospective of his career at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is his very first. She is 82 years old, this woman recognized as the founding mother of feminist art.
She said: “When I walked in I got really emotional because it wasn’t just seeing the work, it was seeing my whole life.”
At first all she wanted was to be taken seriously as a female artist: “I’d watch these male artists, you know, get dragged into a little choo-choo train for success.” , and I would have a great show, and nothing would happen. “
Born Judith Cohen, she was married at 21 and widowed at 23 (her husband was killed in a car accident). Barely out of college, she entered the Southern California art scene and tried to be “one of the boys.” “I tried to sound harsh – I even tried smoking cigars for a while, but they didn’t work, I was like (hacking)!” she laughed.
In 1970, she had it. She declared her independence and affirmed her gender, and took a name of her choice: Judy Chicago, after her hometown. “I wasn’t going to hide who I was. I just wasn’t.”
She has become an artistic chameleon, adapting the technique to the subject. She even went to body shop school to learn spray painting. The result:.
She tackled difficult subjects: the extinction of animals; birth; toxic masculinity; the Holocaust.
Teichner asked, “A lot of artists don’t do 10, 15 techniques in a lifetime. They do one or two.”
“I would be bored,” Chicago said. “I would shoot myself.”
She and her husband, Donald Woodman, live and work in an old hotel renovated by Woodman in Belen, New Mexico, a remote rail town south of Albuquerque. They have been married since 1985. Woodman is a respected photographer but also a collaborator on his wife’s projects.
Here, Judy Chicago exists in a sort of exile from the hostility of the artistic establishment. “Anger can fuel creativity,” she said. “And in my case, it is. I had a burning desire to make art. It was what was the most important thing for me in my life. I gave it all up for it. I don’t care. That was my goal. “
But a funny thing happened: times have changed. A #MeToo world has finally “received” Judy Chicago. Suddenly she was a star. She designed the set for the Dior Couture 2020 show in Paris, as well as a line of Dior handbags.
Last summer, Chicago released an autobiography, “The Flowering,” just in time for Young’s show opening.
The exhibition begins with “The End”, his most recent series (“I think one of the things that gives meaning to life is the fact that it is going to end”), so that viewers have no choice but to grasp the extent of what Judy Chicago has done other than “The Dinner Party.”
“And then they’ll come into this room and they’ll leave, thank goodness!” Chicago laughed.
“Pastel color and light!”
“Okay, that and abstraction!” “
She has always loved color. Her favorite is purple (you’ll never guess).
On a perfect mid-October evening, in front of the de Young Museum, it unleashed an explosion of color. The non-toxic fumes flew up and mingled, as thousands of fans watched the art soar. Acclaimed by the world at its feet, the art world be damned, for Judy Chicago’s validation, after all this time looks like this.
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Story produced by Julia Kracov. Publisher: Remington Korper.