Judy Chicago

(b. 1939)

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(1939– ).

Painter, sculptor, ceramist, and installation artist. A central participant in 1970s feminist art, she remains best known for the iconic Dinner Party (Brooklyn Museum, 1974–79). Executed with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers (including a few men), the installation features a triangular dinner table, 46.5 feet on each side. This supports thirty-nine place settings for women Chicago admired, including Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickinson, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Upon individual needlework runners, each setting comprises a plate, a chalice, and flatware, all decorated to symbolize the individual's accomplishments, with the plates bearing particularly elaborate, often sculptural embellishment. On the floor, names inscribed on white tiles pay homage to an additional 999 women. The piece generated extensive controversy within the art world, as well as among the general public. While some celebrated Chicago's monumental tribute to prominent women in a transhistorical sisterhood, critics found the work conceptually and formally simplistic or, offended by its labial and vaginal imagery, questioned her emphasis on anatomy. A Chicago native, Judith Cohen began her training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago but transferred to UCLA, where she earned a BA in 1962 and a master's degree two years later. In 1961 she married Jerry Gerowitz, who died in an automobile accident in 1965. Under the name Judy Gerowitz, she established her early reputation with spray-painted, minimalist paintings and sculptures. With the onset of the women's movement, she questioned the meaning of such work and soon abandoned it. Around 1970 she also changed her surname to reflect her origins. Directing feminist consciousness-raising techniques toward creative endeavor, she pioneered studio programs for women at California's Fresno State College in 1970. With Miriam Schapiro, the next year she established the landmark Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. In 1973 she left to co-found the Feminist Studio Workshop in Los Angeles. These institutions contributed to the Los Angeles area's recognition as the most radical center of feminist art production during the early 1970s. Two similarly ambitious collaborative installations followed The Dinner Party. The Birth Project (now distributed among numerous institutions, 1980–1985) comprises one hundred needlework panels celebrating woman as the source of life. The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (Through the Flower Foundation, 1984–1993) employs several media, including tapestry, stained glass, and photography, to meditate on oppression and violence as agents of human suffering, particularly for Jewish women. Besides several volumes chronicling aspects of her art, Chicago has published My Struggle as a Woman Artist (1975) and Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist (1996). As well, with Edward Lucie-Smith, she co-authored Women and Art: Contested Territory (1999). In 1970 Chicago married sculptor and painter Lloyd Hamrol (1937– ), known primarily for outdoor public sculptures. After they divorced in 1979, she married photographer and filmmaker Donald Woodman (1945– ), who assisted on the Holocaust Project. They live in Belen, New Mexico, south of Albuquerque.

Subjects: Art.

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