Gasping Downwind from Judy Chicago’s “Forever de Young”

Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance
Published in
3 min readOct 21, 2021

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Last Saturday afternoon, my partner and I happened to have some time to kill in San Francisco and decided to see Judy Chicago’s performance “Forever de Young” at the de Young Museum, where the artist’s retrospective is currently on view. We arrived just after the museum closed and joined the massive crowd that was gathering on the lawn. The festivities began with some people making inaudible remarks through a PA that clearly wasn’t up to the task of broadcasting sound to a crowd this large. Just beyond them, the artist’s pyramidal pyrotechnics rig glistened with anticipation.

Judy Chicago began releasing colorful pillars of smoke in landscapes in the late 60s and early 70s as a response to the male-dominated land art movement. Over the past few years, she has received multiple commissions to revive these smoky spectacles at a variety of high-profile venues. Although the smoke bombs she uses are purportedly made from “non-toxic” pigments, questions regarding their safety have been raised before—last March, a scheduled smoke performance in the Coachella Valley was cancelled due to concerns over the smoke negatively affecting wildlife. According to press materials, the piece at the de Young was Chicago’s largest Atmosphere work to date.

I’ll be honest: I went into this with some misgivings. While there are things that I love about certain of Chicago’s works—particularly her sense of craft and her high-contrast, psychedelic rendering style—every press photo I had seen for “Forever de Young”…

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Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. emilypothast.com