Who is Judy Chicago?
Judy Chicago is a famous American feminist artist. Her real name was Judith Sylvia Cohen. Galley owner Rolf Nelson named her as ‘Judy Chicago’ for her strong personality and Chicago accent. She introduced the term ‘feminist art’ and started the first feminist art program in the United States. Judy got recognition for her sculptures of geometric forms. Her art works include painting on porcelain and airbrush painting on automobile hoods. Her works on performance art with the application of fireworks are truly praiseworthy. Feminist themes dominated her works from the early period of 1970s. She faced criticism for several of her art works. Critics described her “Dinner Party” that represents 39 women characters of mythological and historical significance as Utopian and obscene. Her “The Birth Project” that contains around hundred needlework designs, highlights women’s experience of giving birth. Her art work on Holocaust that describes the traumatic experience of the victims of concentration camps, created much agitation amongst the Jewish community. Besides creating art pieces, she has authored several books which include “Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist” and “Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist”.
Childhood & Early Life
Born as Judith Sylvia Cohen in Chicago, Illinois, Judy Chicago was the daughter of Arthur and May Cohen. Her father worked at a post office and her mother was a medical secretary.
Her father’s active involvement in the American Communist Party and his way of thinking influenced her to a great extent since her early childhood days. It was her father who instilled liberal views towards women into her mind.
As a true art lover, her mother inculcated her passion for art in Judy. At the age of three, she began to draw. At the same time she started attending the Art Institute of Chicago.
Later, she took admission at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she was quite active. There she prepared posters for National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), an African-American civil rights organization in the US.
Gradually, she took responsibility as the corresponding secretary of NAACP. In 1962, she completed her graduation with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. During this time, she got the membership of Phi Beta Kappa Society, an academic honour society in the US. In 1964, she got her Master of Fine Arts degree from UCLA.
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In 1969, she exhibited a series of her spherical acrylic plastic dome sculptures and drawings in the Pasadena Art Museum. During this time, she experimented with performance art by applying fireworks and pyrotechnics.
With an aim to teach women the artistic skills, she worked as a full time teacher at Fresno State College. For that purpose, she organized the first feminist art program in the US.
After that, she taught at the California Institute for the Arts where she acted as the leader for the Feminist Art Program. As part of this program, she played a crucial role in setting up Womanhouse, a feminist art installation and performance space in 1972.
In the next year, she co-founded the Woman’s Building. This building owned the Feminist Studio Workshop and it encouraged feminist art. This building had a vital role in the women’s movement.
In the middle part of 1980s, she developed an interest towards masculine power while working on the theme of Holocaust. To draw inspiration for her work, she visited all the concentration camps in Eastern Europe and Israel.
She applied sixteen large scale works to exhibit “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light”. She prepared these scale works with tapestry, stained glass, Metal and wood work, painting, needlework and photography.
She exhibited this work for the first time in the month of October, 1993, at the Spertus Museum in Chicago. After that, she remained busy for the next six years in creating the work that depicts the horrible experience of concentration camp victims.
She created the “Pasadena Lifesaver” in 1969. This is a series of abstract paintings in which she blended colours effectively. This work consists of four circular forms through which she expressed her idea about women’s sexuality and representation.
She created her remarkable art work “The Dinner Party” from 1974 to 1979. It is an installation artwork that describes 39 mythical and historical famous women characters.
From 1980 to 1985, she remained busy with her another memorable creation namely “The Birth Project”. One can observe a perfect combination of painting and needlework to depict the birth-giving capacity of women in it.
She created “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light” from 1985 to 1993. This piece of work reflects her interest towards Holocaust and masculine power. This art work represents victims of Holocaust.
Personal Life & Legacy
While studying at UCLA, she fell in love with Jerry Gerowitz and married him in 1961. In 1963, Jerry lost his life in a car accident. This incident left her devastated and she began to suffer from an identity crisis.
She represented the death of her husband through an abstract art work titled “Bigamy”. After observing this art piece, several of her male professors were dismayed. Later, she interpreted the same theme through her work in ice sculpture.
In 1965, she tied the nuptial knot for the second time with sculptor Lloyd Hamrol. They got divorced in 1979.
In 1985, she married photographer Donald Woodman.
After the death of her father, this influential artist’s mother neither discussed about the death nor allowed her to attend the funeral. This unresolved grief later resulted in a bleeding ulcer for which she was hospitalized for a month.