Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Judy Chicago - Feminist Artist
It's hard to talk about feminist artists without mentioning Judy Chicago. She has pioneered the idea of feminist art starting in the 1970s through art and art education in California along with Miriam Schapiro. (Chicago, 2010)
Probably her most notable piece is The Dinner Party which is an instillation. You can see part of this piece behind Chicago in the photograph on the right. After many years of being in storage, this piece has now found a home at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. I will be taking a look at The Dinner Party a little later on in this post.
Chicago is also known for her "central core" imagery. This image on the right is titled Through the Flower. This series of images were done from 1972-74 and they all deal with the same imagery. This central core imagery was to represent the vagina and the body. She believed that women needed to take their bodies back from the "male gaze" that they've received from male artists. She also believed that women should make art that is body based. This theme has become very important throughout her whole body of work.
Because of this whole idea of the body, her art has a certain shock value. She deals graphically with the body and isn't afraid to hide anything. She wanted to invent a new language for feminism based totally on the body.
She states, along with Schapiro in 1972: "[T]o be a woman is to be an object of contempt, and the vagina, stamp of femaleness, is devalued. The woman artist, seeing herself as loathed, takes that very mark of her otherness and by asserting it as the hallmark of her iconography, establishes a vehicle by which to state the truth and beauty of her identity." (Brooklyn Museum , 2010)
Now, onto The Dinner Party. There have been many who have written articles about this piece. It's one of those pieces that you either love or hate - it's very controversial.
The Brooklyn Museum explains it as, "The Dinner Party (1974-79) by Judy Chicago is an icon of feminist art, which represents 1,038 women in history—39 women are represented by place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the table rests. This monumental work of art is comprised of a triangular table divided by three wings, each 48 feet long." (Brooklyn Museum , 2010) This instillation was also a collaborative project. Many different artists worked together to put this piece together. One artist made the place mat, another the tableware, and another the vagina. Chicago created the ideas and chose the artists that made the pieces.
These "place settings" include a placemat that was embroidered by an artist and a full place setting (cups, silverware, plate). On the plate was a sculpture that looks like a vagina which represents that woman. An example of one of these place settings is on the right which represents Emily Dickinson. This is just one example of these representations for the famous women being presented here. The Sackler Center offers a virtual tour of this piece, so if you'd like to see more, click on the virtual tour link. There you can look at each setting individually and gather a lot of information on each setting and how/who it represents.
Here she is also using the "woman's work" crafty type materials. Like her counterpart Schapiro, Chicago is trying to elevate these craft like artwork into the world of fine arts. But this can also be balanced by the fact that it is an instillation. During this time most instillation were done by men. So this, of course, is challenging the art world on two fronts now.
The main message behind all of this is empowerment towards women. Different people get different messages from this piece, but I am not one who finds this piece to be necessarily empowering. I think it's great to get these women out there into the public, but I don't think the greatest way to represent them is through their vagina. The question is also raised if the vagina is there to represent that woman, or are they serving a vagina to that woman?
Why not chose to represent each woman through what they're famous for? I would think that a woman is worth more than her vagina. I know, personally, if I were to be represented somewhere, I would like to be represented as what I'm known for. Is this saying that this woman is important simply because she is a woman? Sure the vagina is personalized (supposedly) for her, but does it truly represent her? If you didn't know who Emily Dickson was, would you have figured out she was a writer from her place setting?
This piece has also been criticized because of the hierarchy involved in its creation. Chicago requested samples of the artists' work before they were allowed to continue on to create their contribution to the piece. So she could have rejected you as a contributor to the project if she did not like you're work. This idea of hierarchy is not usually one that is considered good when dealing with feminist ideas. Since feminism is all about seeking equality, shouldn't all women first be considered as equals?
Another notable collaborative work she's known for is Womanhouse. She worked with some of the more important feminist artists of the time to create this huge art project. Click on the link to check out more about Womanhouse and the various rooms within it.
Whether you love her or hate her, Judy Chicago has been an incredible influence on the art world. She's inspired many feminist artists through her teachings and through her artwork. There is much more to her life that I haven't the time to touch on. But she's inspired a generation and really kick started the feminist art movement. Like I said at the beginning, it's hard to talk about feminist artists and not mention Judy Chicago's influence.
Brooklyn Museum,  . "Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art." The Dinner Party. Brooklyn Museum, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/home.php.
Brooklyn Museum,  . "Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art The Dinner Party." Central Core Imagery. Brooklyn Museum, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/core_imagery.php.
Chicago, Judy, and Donald Woodman. "Biography." Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. http://www.judychicago.com/?p=biography.