Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual whose career now spans over five decades. Her influence both within and beyond the art community is attested to by her inclusion in hundreds of publications throughout the world. Her art has been frequently exhibited in the United States as well as in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, a number of the books she has authored have been published in foreign editions, bringing her art and philosophy to thousands of readers worldwide.
In the early seventies after a decade of professional art practice, Chicago pioneered Feminist Art and art education through a unique program for women at California State University, Fresno, a pedagogical approach that she has continued to develop over the years. She then brought her program to Cal-Arts, where she team-taught with Miriam Schapiro, producing with their students the ground-breaking Womanhouse project.
In 1999, Chicago returned to teaching for the first time in twenty-five years, having accepted a succession of one-semester appointments at various institutions around the country beginning with Indiana University, Bloomington, where she received a Presidential Appointment in Art and Gender Studies. In 2000, she was an Inter-Institutional Artist in Residence at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 2001, with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, she undertook a project with students at Western Kentucky University. Working with students, faculty and local artists, Chicago and Woodman developed a project titled, “At Home”, examining the subject of the house from the perspective of residents of Kentucky who have a keen sense of place and home. In the fall of 2003, Chicago and Woodman team-taught again, facilitating an ambitious inter-institutional, multi-site project in Pomona and Claremont, California.
In the spring of 2006, Chicago and Woodman were the first Chancellor’s Artists in Residence at Vanderbilt University where they facilitated a project involving Vanderbilt students and Nashville artists. Recently her art education archive has been acquired by Penn State University, where it will be made available to scholars and educators. In 2009, California State University, Fresno hosted an exhibition entitled “A Studio of Their Own: The Legacy of the Fresno Feminist Experiment” in which the work of the Fresno Feminist Art program students, was showcased.
Although Chicago has been an influential teacher and prolific author, the primary focus of her career has been her studio work. In 1974, Chicago turned her attention to the subject of women’s history to create her most well-known work, The Dinner Party, which was executed between 1974 and 1979 with the participation of hundreds of volunteers. This monumental multimedia project, a symbolic history of women in Western Civilization, has been seen by more than one million viewers during its sixteen exhibitions held at venues spanning six countries.
The Dinner Party has been the subject of countless articles and art history texts and is included in innumerable publications in diverse fields. The impact of The Dinner Party was examined in the 1996 exhibition, “Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in Feminist Art History.” Curated by Dr. Amelia Jones at the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, this show was accompanied by an extensive catalog published by the University of California Press. In 2007, The Dinner Party was permanently housed at the Brooklyn Museum as the centerpiece of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, thereby achieving Chicago’s long-held goal. In conjunction with the permanent housing, Chicago published a final updated and definitive book, The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation (Merrell, 2007).
From 1980 to 1985, Chicago worked on the Birth Project, designing a series of birth and creation images for needlework that were executed under her supervision by 150 skilled needle workers around the country. The Birth Project, exhibited in more than 100 venues, employed the collaborative methods and a similar merging of concept and media that characterized The Dinner Party. Exhibition units from the Birth Project can be seen in numerous public collections around the country including The Albuquerque Museum where the core collection has been placed to be made available for exhibition and study.
While completing the Birth Project, Chicago again focused on individual studio work to create PowerPlay. In this unusual series of drawings, paintings, weavings, cast paper, and bronze reliefs, Chicago brought a critical feminist gaze to the gender construct of masculinity, The thought processes involved in this unique body of art combined with the artist’s long concern with issues of power and powerlessness, and a growing interest in her Jewish heritage led to her next body of art.
The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light - which involved eight years of inquiry, travel, study, and artistic creation - is comprised of a series of images merging Chicago’s painting with the innovative photography of Donald Woodman, as well as works in stained glass and tapestry designed by Chicago and executed by skilled artisans. The exhibition premiered in October 1993 at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, then traveled to museums around the United States until 2002 and selections from the project continue to be shown.
Resolutions: A Stitch in Time was Judy Chicago’s last collaborative project. Begun in 1994 with skilled needle workers with whom she had worked for many years, Resolutions combines painting and needlework in a series of exquisitely crafted and inspiring images which with an eye to the future playfully reinterpret traditional adages and proverbs. The exhibition opened in June 2000 at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY, and toured to seven venues around the United States and Canada.
In 1999, prior to the opening of Resolutions, an extensive retrospective of Chicago’s works on paper premiered at the Florida State University Art Museum in Tallahassee, Florida. “Trials and Tributes” was organized by Dr. Viki Thompson Wylder, who is a scholar on the subject of Chicago’s oeuvre. In October 2002, a major exhibition surveying Chicago’s career was presented at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The show was accompanied by a catalog edited by Dr. Elizabeth A. Sackler with essays by Lucy Lippard and Dr. Viki Thompson Wylder, Introduction by Edward Lucie-Smith.
In 2009, the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto mounted “If Women Ruled the World,” the first major survey of Chicago’s work in the needle and textile arts. This exhibition included Chicago’s range of monumental textile works and was accompanied by an extensive catalog with essays by Allyson Mitchell and Jenni Sorkin, both young feminist scholars. The show subsequently traveled to the Art Gallery of Calgary.
In 2011, “Judy Chicago Tapestries Woven by Audrey Cowan” opened at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. This show highlighted Chicago’s work in tapestry spanning almost five decades, a collection that is being gifted to the museum by Audrey and Bob Cowan.
In addition, in 2011 and 2012, Chicago’s important contributions to southern California art were highlighted in “Pacific Standard Time”, a Getty funded initiative documenting and celebrating the region’s rich history. She was featured in eight museum exhibitions; kicked off the Getty PST Performance Festival with the restaging of two events, “Sublime Environment” (a dry ice installation) and “A Butterfly for Pomona”, the first fireworks piece Chicago had done since 1974. In addition to a life of prodigious art making, Chicago is the author of numerous books: Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist, 1975 (subsequently published in England, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and China); The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979; Embroidering Our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework, 1980 (also published in a combined edition in Germany); The Birth Project, 1985 (Anchor/Doubleday); Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, 1993; The Dinner Party/Judy Chicago, 1996; Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist, 1996 (Viking Penguin); Women in Art: Contested Territory (co-authored with Edward Lucie-Smith), 1999 (Watson Guptill) Fragments from the Delta of Venus, 2004 (powerHouse Books); Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours, 2005 (Harper Design International); The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation, 2007 (Merrell Publishers); and Frida Kahlo, Face to Face (co-authored with Frances Borzello), 2010 (Prestel)
Chicago is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Russell Sage College in Troy, NY; an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, honoris causa from Smith College, Northampton, MA; an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA; an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Duke University, Durham, NC; an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, OH; the 1999 UCLA Alumni Professional Achievement Award; and a Visionary Woman Award from Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, PA in 2004 as well as the Lion of Judah Award that same year.
Many films have been produced about her work including Right Out of History; The Making of Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party by Johanna Demetrakas; documentaries on Womanhouse, the Birth Project, the Holocaust Project and Resolutions; and two films produced by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Under Wraps and The Other Side of the Picture. E! Entertainment Television included Judy Chicago in its three-part program, World’s Most Intriguing Women. Recently, she was named one of the Eight Jewish Women Who Changed the World in the magazine published by the Union for Reform Judaism.
In 1996, the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA, became the repository for Chicago’s papers. Chicago is the first living artist to be included in this major archive. In 2011, Chicago’s art education archive was acquired by Penn State University which intends to integrate information about her pedagogical methods into their art education program.
For over five decades, Chicago has remained steadfast in her commitment to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change and to women’s right to engage in the highest level of art production. As a result, she has become a symbol for people everywhere, known and respected as an artist, writer, teacher, and humanist whose work and life are models for an enlarged definition of art, an expanded role for the artist, and women’s right to freedom of expression. (Statement from Judy Chicago's websire).