Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” 1974-1979 is the powerful, iconic, room-sized, multi-media monument of feminist art. Permanently enshrined in a triangular room in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, it consists of a three-sided triangle banquet table with 39 elaborate place settings, each representing a famous woman. It stands on a tiled floor inscribed with the names of 999 other women.
Born Judith Cohen in Chicago, she went by the name Judy Gerowitz in the 1960s, using the surname of her first husband, who died in 1963. She publicly announced her name change to ‘Chicago’ in 1970. A militant American feminist and lifelong advocate of women’s art, she left Chicago in 1957 and has been based in Los Angeles ever since.
Teaching at Fresno State College in 1970, she created a course of study for women called the Feminist Art Program (FAP). The next year she and the painter Miriam Shapiro relocated the program to CalArts. There they created Womanhouse, an institution for collaborations, installations, and performances in an abandoned house near the campus.
In 1973, Chicago along with two CalArts teachers, Sheila Levant de Bretteville and Arlene Raven, quit CalArts and founded the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW), an independent art school for women. They rented a workshop space in a vacant building near MacArthur Park, calling it the Woman’s Building. Eventually the FSW would relocate to the section of downtown Los Angeles, now known as the Arts District.
Chicago had a serious art career in Los Angeles, making works that were examples of Finish/Fetish, Light and Space, and earth works. She learned how to spray paint car hoods, and she learned how to work with fireworks. She would have her work exhibited in major shows, but then nothing would happen for her careerwise because of her marginal status as a woman artist.
She acknowledges that she did have the support of individual male dealers, curators, and artists, but “What I didn’t have, and saw my male peers having, is systemic support, where their careers would be moved along. For me it would be: I finally get some attention and it would have no implications. The work doesn’t get sold, it doesn’t catapult my career.” Yet, in spite of this, she never stopped making her art.
Chicago has consistently crossed genres of art: painting, sculpture, tapestries, installations, and fireworks. She made environmental sculptures called “Atmospheres,” setting off flares and colored smoke in the desert, mountains, and on the beach, where she blurred the landscape by modifying it instead of obliterating it.
Chicago has upcoming or current shows at the Brooklyn Museum, Salon 94 in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.