For centuries, female artists were pushed to the side of the fine art world, forced to struggle for meager hints of recognition. It is only within the past few decades that there has been a shift in this paradigm and that shift began with the Feminist art movement of the 1960s. One of the leaders of this movement was Judy Chicago, who carved a name for herself within the art world and brought to light women’s roles throughout history through her art.
Born on July 20, 1939, Judy Chicago grew up to have an illustrious art career that spanned five decades. Her most well-known work, The Dinner Party, helped thrust Chicago into the spotlight while also bringing the Feminist art movement into the public’s attention. The Dinner Party was a massive installation piece that was made from 1974-1979, and while it originally began as a traveling installation, it now permanently resides at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum.
The Dinner Party is a series on tables arranged on top of a triangle with the names of 999 significant women inscribed. This piece features 39 place settings, each one focused on a noteworthy woman from history or mythology; some notable examples of the women represented are Hatshepsut, Sojourner Truth, and Sappho, as well as several female artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Georgia O’Keeffe. Additionally, while each place setting is unique, they all contain a butterfly motif, as they were an ancient symbol of liberation.
Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party. 1974-1979. Multimedia installation.
In The Dinner Party, Chicago had originally planned to only include thirteen women in a nod to the Last Supper, however, she was unable to narrow down the list of remarkable women to such a small number. Despite tripling the number of settings, Chicago, as quoted from a book in which she explains the beginning of this artwork, maintains that the work is “a reinterpretation of the Last Supper from the point of view of women, who, throughout history, had prepared meals and set the table. In my ‘Last Supper,’ however, the women would be the honored guests.” This installation explores women’s powerful impact on history, while also acknowledging how the traditional role of homemaker has restricted them. Through this piece, Chicago established herself as an incredibly talented and influential feminist artist. Her later work—which includes The Birth Project, a series of embroidered artworks depicting childbirth and creation, and PowerPlay, an exploration of masculinity and the power dynamic it creates—continued to focus of Feminist issues.
Most importantly, Chicago helped create the Feminist art movement and inspired future generations of female artists. Aside from creating one of the most iconic pieces of Feminist art, Judy Chicago also founded the first Feminist art program in the United States at California State University, Fresno and then went on to mentor other aspiring female artists, such as Faith Wilding and Suzanne Lacy—both of whom went on to have successful art careers. She took materials (embroidery, crochet, needlework, etc . . . ) not typically viewed as fine art due to their association with ‘women’s work’ and used them to create admirable works of art. Judy Chicago helped spur on the Feminist movement with her provocative imagery centered around women’s liberation and, in doing so, inspired countless other female artists to do the same.
Chicago, Judy. Powerplay: The Three Faces of Man. 1985. Acrylic and oil on linen.
Chicago, Judy. The Birth Project: The Creation. 1984. Tapestry.
Photo Credits: judychicago.com
“Modernism and Postmodernism in Europe and America.” Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, by Fred S Kleiner, 15th ed., Cengage Learning, 2016, pp. 974–976.
“Judy Chicago Overview and Analysis.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org/artist-chicago-judy.