Who? Judy Chicago is an American feminist artist and writer known for her large collaborative art installation pieces which examine the role of women in history and culture. Born in Chicago, Illinois, as Judith Sylvia Cohen, she changed her name after the death of her father and her first husband, choosing to disconnect from the idea of male dominated naming conventions. To celebrate the name change, Chicago posed for the exhibition invitation dressed like a boxer, wearing a sweatshirt with her new last name on it. She now resides in a historic railroad hotel in New Mexico.
What? Chicago's early life was difficult, with the death of her father and years as a lonely, struggling artist. Yet she was determined and focused and by the 1970s, had coined the term "feminist art" and founded the first feminist art program in the United States. Chicago's dedication to her work included taking classes in auto body work, boat building, and pyrotechnics; typically male disciplines. Through auto body work she learned spray painting techniques and the skill to fuse color and surface to any type of media, which would become a signature of her later work. Chicago's masterpiece is The Dinner Party, a monumental installation she created between 1974 and 1979 in her Santa Monica studio. It is a provocatively feminist work which celebrates the lives and work of 1,038 notable women (Emily Dickson, Hildegard of Bingen, Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf) and, after 26 years of searching for a permanent home, it is now housed at the Brooklyn Museum.
"Chicago's dedication to her work included taking classes in auto body work, boat building, and pyrotechnics"
Why? At the age of 72, Chicago is currently celebrating the first British survey of her work. The Ben Uri Gallery currently features pieces from Chicago's personal archive and key works, and London's Riflemaker presents Deflowered, an exhibition of early work including Birth Hood, Flight Hood and Bigamy Hood – depictions of male and female genitalia sprayed in automotive lacquer onto a car hood.
Text by Laura Bradley