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Judy Chicago: Biography
Judy Chicago is well known for the convention shattering nature of her work in such monumental, collaborative projects as The Dinner Party, Birth Project, Holocaust Project and Resolutions: A Stitch in Time. As an artist, author, feminist, educator and intellectual whose career now spans more than four decades, she has been a leader and model for an artist’s right to express freely his or her core identity, for a definition of fine art that encompasses craft techniques, and for the necessity of an art that seeks to effect social change.
Chicago has explored an unusually wide range of media over the course of her career: painting, drawing, printmaking, china-painting, ceramics, tapestry, needlework, and most recently glass. Her fluency with diverse media, her commitment to creating content-based art in the service of social change and her interest in collaboration have led to her being hailed—most recently in Janson and Janson’s Basic History of Western Art—not only as a founder of the Feminist art movement but also as a forerunner among contemporary Post-Modernists.
A significant milestone in the artist’s career occurred in March 2007 with the opening of The Dinner Party—Chicago’s iconic masterpiece of Feminist art, created collaboratively with hundreds of volunteers between 1975 and 1979—in its new permanent installation as part of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Before The Dinner Party, Chicago created the sculpture, drawings and paintings of her Minimalist period from 1965 to 1973. Recent exhibitions—at The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris—have recognized her output during these years as a significant contribution to the direction and focus of Minimalism and, in particular, the sub-genre known as the Finish Fetish movement.
LewAllen Contemporary exhibited Chicago’s Minimalist work in September-October 2004. Reviews of the exhibition in ARTnews, Art in America and Artforum have illuminated a continuity between Chicago’s explorations in Minimalism and her later Feminist work, a point also noted by guest curator and catalogue essayist Jenni Sorkin. It was in her Minimalist work that Chicago began developing the “spectral color” theory that informed nearly all of her subsequent work; and it was while producing this work that she began using her distinctively Feminist iconography of circles and octagons with central cores that appear to be expanding and contracting.
Chicago pioneered Feminist art and art education in the early 1970s through unique pro¬grams for women at California State University-Fresno and later (with Miriam Schapiro) the California Institute of the Arts. Through collaborative projects such as Womanhouse in Valencia, California, Chicago helped to initiate a worldwide Feminist art movement.
Between 1974 and 1979 she created The Dinner Party with assistance from hundreds of volunteers, including ceramicists, china painters and needleworkers. From 1980 to 1985 she worked on the Birth Project, a series of birth and creation images designed by Chicago and executed by needleworkers around the country. She next brought a critical feminist gaze to the gender con¬struct of masculinity in a personal project entitled Powerplay (1978-1982). A growing interest in her Jewish heritage led to an eight-year collaboration with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, on the Holocaust Project: From Darkness Into Light (1985-1993), an exhibition in mixed media that explored issues of power and powerlessness and the choices humans make to heal or destroy the world. She next collaborated with skilled needleworkers on a project called Resolutions: A Stitch in Time, which premiered in 2000. This project combined painting and needlework in a series of inspiring images that reinter¬preted traditional adages and proverbs in a modern context. Chicago’s collaboratively created projects have toured the world reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers with the powerful messages in her art.
Chicago’s current work explores the expressive potential of glass. She began her explorations in glass with Rainbow Shabbat, a sixteen-foot triptych in stained glass which served as the final image for the traveling exhibition of the Holocaust Project. After experimenting with carved and painted images on laminated glass, she began collaborating with the Dobbins Studio of Santa Fe on a series that involves repeated painting, carving and firing of fused and cast glass. In 2006 the work premiered as Chicago in Glass in an exhibition at LewAllen Contemporary which travels in 2007 to the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario.
Chicago is the author of numerous books: Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist, 1975; The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979; Embroidering Our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework, 1980; The Birth Project, 1985; Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, 1993; The Dinner Party/Judy Chicago, 1996; Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist, 1996; Fragments From The Delta of Venus, 2004; Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours, 2005; and The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation, 2007.
Judy Chicago: An American Vision, by Edward Lucie-Smith, provided the first book-length critical assessment of Chicago’s art on its release in 2000. The first full-length biography of the artist is Becoming Judy Chicago, by art historian Gail Levin, released in early 2007.
Chicago’s papers were acquired in 1996 by the Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. She has received numerous grants, awards and honorary degrees; and her work has been collected by museums including The British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Getty Trust, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In October 2002 through January 2003, a comprehensive survey of Chicago’s career was pre¬sented at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.
A number of exhibitions, both national and international, are being held in 2007 to celebrate important anniversaries and milestones in the Feminist Art movement. Chicago’s work is prominently featured in many of these ongoing and future exhibitions, including the major retrospective survey of Feminist Art called “WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution,” which premiered at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in the spring and then traveled to the National Museum of Women in the Arts for an exhibition in the fall.