Sunday, March 12, 2017

Judy Chicago, born 1939

Judy Chicago is one of the greatest living artists. She is important both as an artist and as a feminist role model. In the second half of the 20th century she contributed several important innovations to the story of art, and in the 21st century she has continued to open up new issues for art, while also continuing her technical innovations.

Chicago's most significant contribution was the idea of Feminist Art, which boldly asserts women's issues, women's bodies, women's values, and women's history. She started working during the late 1960s when women were embarrassed by their bodily functions, when the word 'vagina' was not spoken in polite conversation, when women felt that their gender was a big hindrance, when women kept their feelings hidden. Chicago insisted on creating imagery based on female sex organs, she asserted a female-dominated world view, and she looked directly at the emotions and issues that were troubling her.

Chicago's second important contribution was the idea of collaborative or community art. She created projects in which she employed the talents of many artisans, and gave them all credit, while maintaining her identity as creator of the whole.

Thirdly, Chicago created projects that promoted all sorts of crafts normally associated with women—and under-valued because of that—such as embroidery and ceramic.

In the 1970s, Chicago pioneered Feminist Art Education through programs for women at California State University-Fresno and later (with Miriam Schapiro) at the California Institute of the Arts. Her approach was to set up projects to which many artists could contribute in their own way.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Chicago is her capacity for growth, which enables her to admit when she was wrong. After some years of promoting bold and assertive Feminism, Judy realized, she said later, that she and her friends were operating on a wrong premise. "When I was young in the 70s, we cast the dialogue entirely around gender. We assumed all women were our friends and all men were our enemies. That was a completely erroneous assumption. It has to do with values, not gender. Some of the best feminists are men."


Judy Cohen was born to a Jewish family in Chicago, one of two children. Chicago's brother Ben became a potter.

Although her father Arthur came from a long line of rabbis, he chose to work for the post office, and he became a labor organizer and a Marxist. He worked nights so that he could care for the kids during the day, while her mother, May worked as a medical secretary. Chicago credits Arthur with encouraging her precocity and giving her confidence in her ability to express her beliefs and opinions, but it was May who loved the arts and instilled a passion for them in her children.

Arthur died in 1953, when Judy was 14, after a long period of career problems and declining health. May refused to discuss his death with Judy and Ben, and did not allow them to attend the funeral. Judy's unresolved grief was blamed for a bleeding ulcer she suffered in the early 1960s.


Judy always wanted to be an artist. She started drawing at the age of 3, and from the age of 5 she took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago every Saturday, followed by private sessions of browsing the museum's outstanding collection.

When she reached college age, Judy was not admitted to the Art Institute, oddly enough, but she did receive a scholarship to UCLA.

In 1957 she entered the University of California in Los Angeles, where she earned both a bachelor's in fine arts (1962) and a master's in painting and sculpture (1964).

Judy's student work was characterized by personal subjects and metaphorical use of bodily forms, but the predominant style in the art world at the time valued formalism and minimalism, preferring works that were devoid of emotional content. Artists used industrial materials and mechanized techniques and aspired toward surface perfection. The ideal work of art had an industrial quality, as though it has been made by machine.

Driven to be successful within this style, Chicago enrolled into auto body school to learn how to spray paint, attended boat-building school to learn how to mold fiberglass, and apprenticed as a pyrotechnician to learn how to make firework displays.

Private life

While still an undergraduate at UCLA, Judy Cohen fell in love with writer Jerry Gerowitz, who was either a rebellious, free spirit or a slacker, depending on your point of view. Judy dropped out of school for a year or two and set up her own studio;  she returned to UCLA in 1960 to finish her degree. Her relationship with Jerry was stormy, but they finally married in 1961.

For the next year or so things went well, but in 1963, Jerry was killed when he drove his car off one of the winding roads leading to their new home in Topanga Canyon. Now a widow at the age of 24, Judy was devastated, but she threw herself into her art and finished her master's degree.

In 1969, she married sculptor Lloyd Hamrol, a close friend she had known since their undergraduate days who is still a practicing artist; he uses unusual material such as logs and felt. They collaborated on some highly experimental work, such as a room with a feather-covered floor, and an environment built of dry ice. Both had teaching positions at various schools.

Judy did not take Hamrol's name when they married; she had already started her career as Judy Gerowitz. Increasingly concerned with asserting her own identity in the art world, Judy decided to change her name to something independent of her father and her late husband. The gallery owner who presented her first solo exhibit, Rolf Nelson, had taken to calling her "Judy Chicago" because of her thick Chicago accent and forceful personality, so she decided to adopt that name as her own.

In 1974, Hamrol confessed that he had engaged in a series of short affairs, mostly with his students, throughout their marriage. This was particularly humiliating because Chicago had also been teaching young women, and promoting feminine values. The pair separated and were divorced in 1976.

In 1985, Judy married photographer Donald Woodman. They live and work in a large brick building in Belen, New Mexico, which is 35 miles south of Albuquerque. They have collaborated on several art projects.

In 1996, Chicago and Woodman moved into the Belen Hotel in Belen, New Mexico, a historic railroad hotel on the National Register of Historic Places, after a three-year renovation/restoration by Woodman.


1965: Car hoods

After Chicago, then known as Judy Gerowitz, had earned her master's degree and was starting to exhibit her work, she attended auto body school in order to learn spray painting, the only woman in a class of 250.

The artist then used this training to create a series of wall-mounted sculptures by spray painting designs on car hoods.

To use an airbrush with automotive lacquer and a car hood for fine art was an amazing innovation in itself, but this was overshadowed by her imagery, which consisted of flattened, streamlined, abstract sex organs, both female and male. The artist felt that by using female-centered biomorphic imagery and emotive color on a car part, when cars are seen as a token of masculinity, she was asserting the domination of the female over the male, namely her own vision over the hyper-masculinity of the art department at UCLA and the auto painting class where she had learned her technique. The art world was not impressed.

Birth Hood, 1965
Sprayed automotive lacquer on car hood
Collection of the artist / Internet
Bigamy Hood, 1965
Sprayed automotive lacquer on 1965 Corvair car hood
An abstract penis is "stopped in flight" before it can unite with its vaginal equivalent. Chicago has said this work deals with the deaths of her father and her first husband

1965-1970: Early Work / Minimalism

Since she had received so much criticism for using feminine imagery, Chicago, still called Judy Gerowitz, felt that in order to get recognition she had to conform to the current male aesthetic of content-free minimalism, using geometric shapes to explore the impact of emotive color. She also conformed to the Finish Fetish movement by making surfaces that appear to be machine-made. Her contributions to Minimalism were overshadowed by her later work.

Rainbow Pickett, 1964
Private collection / Internet

Pasadena Lifesaver, Blue Series #4, 1969-1970
Acrylic lacquer sprayed on an acrylic sheet.
Portland, OR / Jan's photo, 2017

Silver Blue Fan, 1971
From Fresno Fan series
Sprayed acrylic on sheet acrylic, 10 ft. wide

1968-1974: Atmospheres/Fireworks
Between 1968 and 1974, Chicago executed a series of increasingly complex fireworks pieces that involved site specific performances around California. Some of these works, titled Atmospheres, were intended to transform and soften the landscape, introducing a feminine impulse into the environment, while others focused on re-creating early women-centered activities like the kindling of fire or the worship of goddess figures. Her final work in this period was A Butterfly for Oakland, which configured a 200-foot butterfly that went through a 17 minute life cycle.

A Butterfly for Oakland, 1974
Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

1970-1974: Early Feminism

In the early 1970’s, Judy Chicago fused her abstract iconography with a new-found determination to openly express her experiences as a woman. During this period, she expanded the central-core imagery that has become emblematic of her work.

Heaven is for White Men Only, 1973
New Orleans / Internet

Through the Flower, 1973
Sprayed acrylic on canvas, 5 ft square
Sackler Collection / Internet

Elizabeth in Honor of Elizabeth, 1973
from the Great Ladies series
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the US to receive a medical degree.

During her college years and her early career, Chicago encountered disdain from the male-dominated art world and rejection of the feminine imagery she wanted to use. In 1974, she confronted her feelings head on in a suite of 5 drawings in colored pencil and graphite called The Rejection Quintet. That series is now in the collection of SFMOMA, where I recently photographed it. Chicago used the unusual technique of explaining her meaning in pencil right below the drawing. Some transcriptions are included here in order to show her introspective technique.

Chicago Rejection Drawing, 1974
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2017
"How does it feel to be rejected?
It's like having your flower split open."

Childhood Rejection Drawing, 1974
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2017
"I have been struggling lately to resolve a gap that exists in my work and that frows out of the difference between my rhetoric and my work. I talk about exposure and encourage my students to work out of their real feelings. Yet, I have been hiding some of my subject matter in the rigid structure of my images....In order to get my degree, I felt that I had to hide my content even more behind the structure. Now I'm trying to let the structure be the underpinning of the image rather than a device to obscure the subject matter. I want to find out more about that information that has been compressed inside the structure, to expose the content more clearly. This drawing is a small step in that direction. When I finished it, I felt embarrassed. Also, this whole issue has something to with my father's rejection of that part of me out of which I make art. I used to feel that whenever I opened that part of me and exposed myself, I got hurt in my most vulnerable Center."

Female Rejection Drawing, 1974
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2017
"In trying to 'peel back' the structure I have used in my work...I found myself making a vaginal form...Whenever I want to deal with the issue of vulnerability, emotional exposure, or primitive feelings, the only image I can think of is a vagina, probably because these aspects of the human experience have been relegated to the sphere of the 'feminine' and then deprecated...In the years I was developing as an artist, I was consistently rejected as a woman and even more violently rejected if my womanliness was reflected in my art...etc."

Rejection Fantasy Drawing, 1974
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2017
"While I was working on this drawing, I had a number of rejection fantasies...Then, I realized that my rejection fantasies were growing out of the image I was making...I recognized that this image was in fact, a female form, and, like a phenix rising from the ashes, it was emerging from the old structure I have used to hide my content. I realized that I, like the butterfly above, was on the brink of freeing myself from the former structure that contained me and that I was indeed birthing a new and female form which I was afraid would be rejected.

Rejection Breakthrough Drawing, 1974
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2017
"How does it feel to expose your real identity?
It's like opening your flower and no longer being afraid it will be rejected."

1974-1979: The Dinner Party

Between 1974 and 1978, Chicago created one of the most ambitious, comprehensive, and innovative works of art in history.

Perhaps its most unique quality was its purpose of education, inspiration, and empowerment. Chicago wanted to honor and memorialize the women who had made contributions to civilization. Since conventional historical reports tend to ignore women, most people think that women have had no role in shaping culture, but the truth is there have been women in leadership roles throughout history.

Chicago symbolized this with a triangle consisting of three long tables, each with 13 place settings, one for each of 39 important women. She designed a symbolic plate and runner for each figure, while keeping the cutlery and goblet plain white. It required a great deal of research to choose these important women and determine appropriate historical symbols for decoration. The plate designs required Chicago to deeply reflect on each woman's significance, and to determine aesthetic equivalents. Lest all this research be lost, an educational display occupies a room adjacent to the installation where wall charts and computer displays show the historical significance of each woman, and detail the meaning of the symbols.

Chicago has a master's in sculpture as well as painting, so I believe she sculpted the plates and painted them, but many crafts people did the textile work, to her design. Another unique factor is that she gave credit to them all by placing their names and photos in the educational section.

In fact, using textile crafts for a work of 'fine art' was unheard of; embroidery and needlepoint were something that women did, and therefore too humble for a museum.

The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor.

Even though the installation has an educational intent, Chicago maintained the highest aesthetic standards. Every plate is beautiful, with great colors, patterns, and shapes.

All this inspiration, innovation, and beauty went unremarked by many male art critics because all they could see was that Chicago's designs were based on vaginal forms, in a time when women's "private parts" were hardly acknowledged. Chicago felt the most obvious way of creating a female-dominated vision was to start from a central core that inevitably recalls a vulvar form. For the early parts of history the plates are mostly flat, with painted designs, but for the 20th century women she carved deeply into the clay to create forms that surge outward; some of these are shockingly organic.

Although The Dinner Party was hugely popular when it opened in San Francisco, and it toured to large audiences for a few years, because of its great size and complexity, no museum was willing to commit the resources for exhibiting it properly, and it was hidden in storage for decades, subverting its purpose. In 2007, the Brooklyn Museum of Art opened up a wing for art by women and created a special triangular room for this seminal work. With my husband, photographer Dan L. Smith, I have toured and studied this installation twice. I have included a great deal of detail here, because the more I study this work of art, the more I feel empowered.

To set the tone, the entry way to the installation has tapestry banners of Chicago's design; each design is quite exciting regardless of its message.

Entry Way Banners
"And She Gathered All before Her
And She made for them A Sign to See
And lo They saw a Vision…"
Banner #3
Modified Aubusson tapestry, 5 ft. tall

Ceremonial table representing 39 women who influenced history.
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012

Marcella, c. 325-410
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012 
Marcella was a Roman noble woman who became one of the founders of the Christian monastic system. She is known for her close relationship with Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. Her place setting is decorated with symbols of her sainthood and of the Christian church. On the runner is an outline of the architectural plan for early Christian churches.

Hypatia, 370-415
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Hypatia of Alexandra was the first woman to make significant advances in the fields of mathematics and philosophy; she was also a respected teacher and astronomer. Her place setting employs materials, motifs, and weaving techniques from the Coptic style of her time.  The border of the runner is woven bands of wool with heart motifs, similar to those found in the ornamentation of Coptic tunics…The plate's imagery can be interpreted as a butterfly form; the designs on the wings give the illusion of motion. This reference to flight refers to Hypatia's attempt to "break free from the constraints imposed upon so many women of her time."

Saint Bridget, 453-523
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Saint Bridget is one of the most recognized saints in Ireland, along with Saint Patrick. Her contribution was to start convents and monasteries throughout Ireland. Her name traces back to a Celtic name, Brigid, which means "fiery arrow." Brigid was the Celtic goddess of poetry, healing, and metal arts. Christian writers adopted some of her characteristics in describing Saint Bridget. On the plate, she is represented as a flame, both in reference to the "fiery arrow" and to the fire that nuns kept lit in her honor after her death. The blue and green streaks represent plant imagery; the flaming spirit nourishes life.

Theodora, 500-548
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Empress Theodora was born into the lowest class of Byzantine society, but she eventually advanced to rule over the Byzantine Empire equally with her husband. In her youth, in the early 500s, Theodora became an actress in order to support her family, even though acting was considered scandalous and associated with prostitution. At the age of 16, she traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, where she discovered a religion based on faith in Jesus. There she converted, and renounced her former career and lifestyle. How she supported herself for the next 6 years is not reported, but at the age of 22 she became the beloved of Justinian I, the heir to the throne of Byzantium, and they were married 3 years later. Theodora and Justinian were known for ruling as intellectual and political equals. Together they faced down a revolt and went on to rebuild important monuments in Constantinople. During her time as empress, Theodora fought for the persecuted, including prostitutes, she passed laws that expanded the rights of women in divorce cases, and she abolished a law that had allowed women to be killed for committing adultery.
Her place setting uses Byzantine iconography and mosaics to convey her important role in building the Byzantine empire. The look of mosaic tile in the plate recalls her portrait in the famous mosaics from the Byzantine church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.

Eleanor of Aquitane, 1122-1204
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Eleanor of Aquitaine served as queen of both France and England in the twelfth century, making her one of the most powerful women of the time. Eleanor and her court were also responsible for the development of courtly love, ideals and etiquette governing the courtship of knights and ladies, which became the accepted mode of behavior for the nobility throughout medieval Europe. The symbol on the plate is based on a fleur-de-lis, a symbol of France commonly found in art in her era, the 1100s. It is also related to the iris form, and the iris is a symbol for the Virgin Mary. More recognizable forms of fleur-de-lis and iris are found on the runner.

Petronilla de Maeath, c. 1300-1324
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Petronilla de Meath was the first Irish woman to be burned at the stake for the crime of heresy, centuries before the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries. During her aristocratic mistress's trial for witchcraft, she made the mistake of claiming that she and her mistress could fly by applying a magical ointment to a wooden beam. Her mistress was able to flee but she, along with others, was burned alive at the stake. The flame symbolism on the plate is fairly obvious, but still sly and subtle in its design.

Anne Hutchinson, 1591-1643
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan who held discussions for women in her home that critiqued teachings of the Bible and Puritan clergy, which eventually caused her to be exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony. She represents the many women in history who have suffered social punishment for their intellectual pursuits. After her banishment, Hutchinson and her family moved to Long Island, where she was killed in a war between Dutch settlers and Native Americans. In 1987 she was officially pardoned by Michael Dukakis, then governor of New York. Many of her genealogical descendants became well-known social and political figures, including three United States presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Sacajawea, c. 1788-c. 1812
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Sacajawea was an essential member of the expedition to discover routes through the North American West to the Pacific Ocean. As a teen she was forced to marry a French Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. When Charbonneau was later hired by Lewis and Clark to serve as a wilderness guide on their famous expedition, Sacajawea accompanied them, though she was only sixteen years old and pregnant, and the only woman in the expedition. She spoke the languages of some of the tribes they encountered, she could direct the explorers to local food sources, and she was considered exceptionally brave, even in a company of brave explorers. She did not receive any payment. She later separated from Charbonneau, who was abusive. William Clark invited her to St. Louis, and later adopted her children. The later part of her life is obscure, but native legend says she lived with the Shoshone tribe in North Dakota for many years. 
The palette used in the plate—yellow, ochre, blue, and lavender—references the colors the Shoshone made with vegetable dyes. The linear design is patterned on rawhide paintings of her tribe, and incorporates both the butterfly and the triangle. The runner is constructed of hand-tanned deerskins bordered with seed beads.

Sojourner Truth, 1797-1883
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Sojourner Truth was born a slave named Isabella Baumfree; at the age of 29, she ran away to New York with her youngest child. There she became a Christian and spent years working in several religious communities. Later she came to believe that she was called by God to spend her life fighting for the rights of others, and symbolized this by changing her name to Sojourner Truth. She became an prominent abolitionist, and later, a suffragist, who was known for her moving oratory.
Her plate is one of the few whose imagery does not relate to a central core. Instead it shows two faces, one weeping for the suffering of slaves, one outraged by that suffering, separated by a mask representing the African heritage of American slaves. The breast forms at the bottom of the plate refer to the fact that a member of the church congregation where she was speaking once requested that her body be examined, not believing that a woman could be so powerful

Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Emily Dickinson is recognized as one of America's greatest poets. She was outspoken and emotional in her poetry, defying the 19th-century expectation that women were to be demure and reticent. Although she maintained an outward appearance of submissiveness, her poetry was witty and frequently subversive. She straddled a fine line between religious loyalty and dissent in her highly spiritual poems, and her poetic structure also occupies a middle ground between acceptance and rejection of established forms.
Dickinson's place setting represents a “strong though delicate center imprisoned within layers of immobile lace." The frilly layers are made of lace saturated with porcelain slip, then fired. This technique was used in Dickinson's time to make porcelain dolls.

Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Virginia Woolf was a renowned British novelist associated with the modernist movement in literature. Her writing is characterized by experiments in language, narrative, and treatment of time. She is one of the most innovative writers of the 20th century, with her fractured narratives and her stream-of-consciousness style.
The three-dimensionality of her plate, which the artist likens to a blooming flower, is meant to symbolize Woolf's advocacy for unrestricted expression. The seed forms in its center symbolize the fertility of her imagination while the petals refer to its flowering.  

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012
Georgia O'Keeffe was one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, and though she did not espouse a feminist agenda, she is sometimes considered the foremother or godmother of feminist art because many of her early works referenced flower forms, which inevitably suggested female organs, similar to the more intentional vaginal forms created by Judy Chicago. In her personal life, she managed to transcend her role as muse for her photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz—where she was treated as a passive object of his fetish—to become the epitome of independence and self-determination.
The plate has been formed into a shape of great depth, as if you were looking deep inside the artist. The outer wings have an astonishing variation of luxurious curves, and shading that is similar to several of O'Keeffe's paintings. The great height of the plate overall signifies her artistic liberation and her success as a female artist.

Heritage Panels, explaining the contributions of the 999 women on the Heritage Floor.

Acknowledgement Panels, identifying Judy's assistants and collaborators.

From 1980 to 1985: the Birth Project

From the beginning, the general art world has been slow to appreciate Judy Chicago. Her early work in minimalism was virtually ignored until fairly recently, when it has started appearing in museums. The The Dinner Party made a big splash, but then it was put in storage for a couple of decades, until it was given proper treatment by the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the 21st century. Since then she has continued working on a series of projects, but they have not gotten very wide exposure.

Chicago's next project was to consider a subject that is very important to most women but has rarely been treated in art: childbirth. She designed a series of birth and creation images for needlework banners which were executed under her supervision by 150 skilled needle workers around the country. When you recall that these tapestries are 10 feet tall, you imagine it must be quite moving to stand in a room gazing around at them; it would be like a temple.

Mother India, 1985
Painting, applique, embroidery on fabric, about 10 ft. tall

1982-1987: PowerPlay

While the textile workers were finishing their work on the Birth Project, Chicago turned away from women's issues for the first time in a big way. Working in her studio, she created a body of work examining the gender construct of masculinity. In a series of drawings, paintings, cast paper and bronze pieces, she explored how prevailing definitions of power and the negative ways in which men have exercised power have affected the world in general— and men in particular.

PowerPlay has not been exhibited widely. I had a chance to see a small but powerful selection at an exhibit at the Indiana University when she was artist-in-residence there.

The Three Faces of Man, 1985
From PowerPlay / Exhibited at Indiana University
Photo by Dan L. Smith, from slide

Driving the World to Destruction, 1985
sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian Linen
This photo comes from Chicago's own website, which has a fascinating archive of her work through all of its phases. At 14 feet wide, this canvas must be very powerful, much more powerful than most art being shown in museums currently.
Chicago is outfitted for spray painting with acrylic and oil.  She remains unique in her use of this medium and achieves remarkably refined control of the airbrush.

1985-93: Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light

Chicago was from a non-practicing Jewish home, but after she married photographer Donald Woodman, who is also Jewish, the pair were inspired to explore their Jewish heritage, and in particular, to confront the horror of the Holocaust. The project that resulted is structured as a journey into the darkness of the Holocaust and out into the light of hope.

Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, 1989
Banality of Evil/Struthof
Sprayed acrylic, oil, and photography on photolinen
The majority of the works combine Chicago's spray-painted images with Woodman's photos on the same canvas, in a way that is so seamless that it is hard to detect.

The exhibit opens with a monumental tapestry, suggesting that the Holocaust grew out of the 'fabric' of Western Civilization, and concludes with a large stained glass installation called Rainbow Shabbat: A Vision for the Future.

Rainbow Shabbat, 1992
'Shabbat' means 'day of rest and remembrance.

1994-2000: Resolutions: A Stitch in Time

Chicago next turned her attention to the seemingly widespread breakdown of American values, as expressed in adages and proverbs. She created a series of images that reinterpret those old sayings for the future. Her remarkable innovation was to use embroidery in combination with spray-painting, with the help of a group of needleworkers. This exhibition has had very limited exposure.

Home Sweet Home, 2000
From Family
Sprayed acrylic, oil paint, and embroidery on linen
2 ft. tall banner

21st Century

Chicago has continued to work prolifically in the 21st century. Among other things, she did an illustrated book about cats called Kitty City, and she created a body of work in cast and fused glass, while working as artist in residency at the Pilchuck Glass School outside of Seattle. In the past several years, she has been occupied with an increasing number of exhibits of her work at home and abroad, as well as efforts to archive her work.

In 2012, Chicago returned to fireworks as an art form. Commissioned by the Pomona College Art Museum, she staged A Butterfly for Oakland in their college football field.

In 2014, to celebrate her 75th birthday, Chicago used modern pyrotechnics to create her largest and most complex fireworks display yet, in Prospect Park for the Brooklyn Museum, called A Butterfly for Brooklyn.

A Butterfly for Brooklyn, 2014
fireworks, flares, and LED lights
Prospect Park, Brooklyn /


The longer I study the work of Judy Chicago, the more I feel that she is on to something that the art world has not yet really begun to acknowledge or understand; namely that art with a purpose, art that is chuck-full of meaningful content, is more vital and engaging than "art for art's sake."