Judy Chicago Celebrates 75th Birthday

A prominent feminist artist of the 20th Century, Judy Chicago is turning seventy-five this year, and celebrating with a series of retrospectives, publications, and associated events scattered across the country. An Illinois native, she spent her early career in Los Angeles, completing a BA and MA at UCLA before creating the first program in feminist art at the California State University-Fresno (with Miriam Schapiro), and later the Feminist Art Program at CalArts.

One of this year’s exhibitions will take place at the Brooklyn Museum, the permanent home of one of Chicago’s most famous works, The Dinner Party. Titled Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work 1963-74, it focuses on the artist’s formative early periods, and will remain on display from April 4th through September 28th. The exhibit intends to cut a sharp cross-section through Chicago’s less celebrated first works, aiming to offer a perspective on the overarching trajectory of her career.

A new volume of essays and photographs—The Dinner Party: Restoring Women to History—is scheduled for publication following the opening of the exhibit. Chicago, in an interview by telephone, underscored the importance of placing The Dinner Party within the long view of her achievements: “One of the things that’s so wonderful about this year is that, even though I was very gratified by the attention The Dinner Party brought me, it almost blocked out the rest of my work. And finally I’m getting what I’ve longed for over many years, which is that people are seeing The Dinner Party as part of a much more intricate career.”

Reflecting on the implications of a year-long celebration, Chicago drew attention to certain conflicts inherent in both the size and character of her work: “I’m basically having a national retrospective. There isn’t a museum in the world that would give enough space to a woman artist to do an appropriately-scaled retrospective of a career like mine, so I’ve gone around that by involving museums across the country.” Correspondingly, a host of parallel exhibits have been planned. Among others, The Very Best of Judy Chicago is currently at MANA in Jersey City, and will remain on display through August 1st. Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014 will run at the New Mexico Museum of Art from June 6th through October 12th. Judy Chicago: Circa 75 is on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC through April 13th. And Judy Chicago: Through the Archives is on view at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University through September 30th.

In tandem with her national retrospective, she is also publishing a new critical work this year—Institutional Time, A Critique of Studio Art Education. Per Chicago, this text—which she spent ten years completing—considers the widening gap between the academic and commercial art worlds, both of which have been dramatically transformed: “I’ve started saying ‘If you can’t generate money, you can’t be an artist.’ It’s a different world today, and I structured my teaching projects to try and help artists negotiate the differences between the world I grew up in—where you could scrape—and the world today—where you really have to make money as an artist.”

Turning from a meditation on her past towards the future of both her own work and feminism at large, Chicago concluded: “An incredible amount of work remains to be done—and I’m already anxious to be back in the studio. The goal of feminism as I see it is the transformation of the planet—changing the structures where whites dominate over blacks, men dominate over women, rich dominate over poor. Our viewpoint isn’t shared by everyone, but it underlies all of my work, and that’s what sustained my success. The voiceless people of the world have found in my work a reflection of their values.”