Women in Art : Judy Chicago

“ Ah, well, do I wish that we lived in a world where gender didn’t figure so prominently? Of course. Do I even think about myself as a woman when I go to make art? Of course not.”

Perhaps the most influential artist who spearheaded feminist Art, Judy Chicago is no unfamiliar name. A first generation feminist artist, Chicago herself coined the term ‘feminist art’, and founded the first feminist Art program at a university in 1970. Considered her most iconic piece of work, ‘The Dinner Party’ commemorates female historical heritage through 39 place settings dedicated to historical or mythical women. The piece has since been seen by over 1 million people through its many installations, and is considered a hallmark of feminist artwork.

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974–1979, mixed media, 48 x 48 ft., Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Chicago’s feminism can be traced back to her time at UCLA. A daughter of a communist father and of a mother who loved the arts, Chicago’s political activism came through in her work. Her early feminist series was called ‘Bigamy’, consisting of semi-abstract depiction of male and female sexual organs which her professors frowned upon.

That didn’t stop her from experimenting with beautiful, abstract, and sometimes unsettling imagery. The Birth Project series subverts the traditional Genesis narrative by depicting Woman created by the last wail of the Universe instead of Man, and Powerplay explores the social construct of masculinity.

Outside of Art, Judy Chicago also established a non-profit feminist Art organization, Through the Flower. The organization educates how Art and its importance can be used to emphasize women’s achievements, and provides annual research scholarships. As a teacher, she created a curriculum of ‘female centered content’, developing the first Feminist Art Program at California State University, Fresno in 1970.

Despite her feminist approach to Art, Chicago was not a fan of labels. In 1968, Chicago did not participate in the ‘California Women in the Arts’ exhibition, saying that “I won’t show in any group defined as Woman, Jewish or California. Someday when we all grow up there will be no labels.” This thinking also influenced the change of her name from Gerowitz to Chicago. By choosing her own name, she rid the names imposed on her through male social dominance.

Still currently active and with 9 permanent collections in museums around the world, Chicago inspires women to strive in male-dominated fields through her fight for a space for women in Art. She challenges the religious, sexual and historical representations of women through her work, and has created a space for women that will only grow from here on.

Name: Judy Chicago (Married Gerowitz, née Cohen)

Born: July 20, 1939- ( Age 77)

From: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Style: Feminist Art, Minimalism

Notable Work: Early Feminist, The Dinner Party, Powerplay, The Birth Project, Atmospheres/Fireworks

Check out Judy Chicago’s website here, her authored books here, and a documentary tour of ‘The Dinner Partyhere.

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