As the Foremother of feminist art, Judy Chicago placed women and feminity at the center of the art world. Born as Judith Cohen, Chicago was raised by a labor organizer and medical secretary in Chicago, Illinois. Her feminist roots were stoked at an early age by her progressive father while her love of art came from her dancer mother. Her world was devastated at age 13 by the sudden death of her father. She continued cultivating her artistic talents through classes at the Art Institute of Chicago before enrolling at UCLA.
Chicago thrived briefly at UCLA before dropping out to live in New York with her first husband. She eventually completed her BFA upon the couple moving to Chicago. After her first husband’s death, she completed her MFA in painting and sculpture. The visual artist tried fitting in with the LA art scene’s “boys club.” She eventually grew tired of this disposition by changing her last name to Chicago and putting on her first solo show in 1970. She began teaching full-time at Fresno State College at the same time. She spearheaded the first Feminist Art Program at the college. Chicago re-established the program at the California Institute of the Arts (known as CalArts) after leaving Fresno State.
This period led to her best-known exhibition called Womanhouse, where she and other female artists showcased their artwork. The project bolstered her most influential work, The Dinner Party, which highlighted women across history. Despite being a feminist art benchmark now, mostly male art critics called the exhibition and Chicago’s work “vaginas on plates.” However, due to the public interest in her work, she continued highlighting womanhood in her work in the 1980s and 1990s with Birth Project and Power Play. The artist shifted gears briefly into masculinity with The Holocaust Project.
Chicago has been active as both an artist and educator. She has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with numerous solo exhibitions and group shows featuring artists who draw inspiration from her work. Her first retrospective was held at the De Young Museum, following her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Chicago’s feminist art is represented in several permanent collections around the world, including the British Museum and Getty Trust
Judy Chicago used her platform to showcase the art and voices of women who were overlooked by the traditional art world. Her work established a model for feminist art that has endured for years. Despite the value of her art, her contributions as an artist have not received the recognition they deserve. As Chicago continues to create groundbreaking work, I will say, “Ms. Chicago, we appreciate you bringing women out of the shadows and into the spotlight they deserve.”
I think what’s important is to give space to the range of human experience.Judy Chicago