Occupation: Painter; Sculptor; Installation Artist
Movement: Contemporary Feminist Art
Education: University of California, Los Angeles
“Car Hood,” 1964
“Rainbow Pickett,” 1965-2004
“Six Erotic Cookies,” 1967
“Evening Fan,” 1971
“Flesh Gate I,” 1972
“The Dinner Party,” 1979
An early pioneer of Feminist Art, Judy Chicago is an American writer, sculptor, painter and art educator, best known for art installations that examine the history and position of women in Western culture.
Judith Sylvia Cohen was born into a politically liberal Jewish household in Chicago in the summer of 1939, the daughter of Arthur Cohen and his wife May. Although her father came from a long line of rabbis, he went against the grain to become a Marxist union representative, while May, who had previously worked as a dancer, worked as an audio typist. As vocal members of the American Communist Party, the couple found it difficult to survive the rise of McCarthyism in the 1950s, particularly when Arthur became the target of an ongoing investigation. Unable to find work, he developed a stomach ulcer that remained untreated and eventually passed away of peritonitis in 1953. For reasons that are not clear, Chicago and her siblings were forbidden from discussing their father’s death or attending his funeral.
Raised in an environment that fostered intellectual and artistic activity, Chicago developed an interest in painting when she was placed in children’s classes at the Art Institute in 1942. After completing high school, she applied for a seat at the academy at the undergraduate level but failed to receive admission, leading her to move to California to pursue her BFA at the University of California Los Angeles.
During her time at university, Chicago became an active supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for whom she designed posters on a regular basis before her appointment as its corresponding secretary. In the summer of 1959, she fell in love with Jerry Gerowitz and temporarily dropped out of university to hitchhike across America to New York. After a brief hiatus in Greenwich Village, the couple returned to Los Angeles in 1960 in order for Chicago to complete her formal training. She received her degree the following year but chose to remain at UCLA to enroll in the Master’s program. It was midway through her two-year course that Gerowitz, whom she married in 1961, died in a car accident, sending the young artist into a deep identity crisis. She was subsequently hospitalized for 28 days due to a bleeding ulcer accredited to unsettled grief.
Upon graduating from UCLA in 1964, Chicago began exhibiting her bold, sexualized compositions at various art venues in the city and mounted her first solo show at the Rolf Nelson Gallery. She also expanded her practice to include performance art and ice-sculpture, a reference to the ephemeral quality of life. In addition, she took lessons at an autobody school in order to learn spray-painting and welding. Over the next decade, the artist experimented with different mediums, though the underlying theme of her work remained intact: male tyranny over female expression. In 1965, she married sculptor Lloyd Hamrol but chose not to adopt his last name in favor of creating a new one more aligned to her present identity. She chose to call herself Judy Chicago in reference to Rolf Nelson’s nickname for her and designed a series of posters and ads depicting herself as a boxer, her new name emblazoned on a sweatshirt.
In 1970, she accepted a full-time faculty position at Fresno State College and established an art class exclusively for women, which was conducted off-campus at a refurbished atelier on Maple Avenue. Chicago relocated to San Francisco the following year to teach at the California Institute for the Arts, where she designed a program in collaboration with Miriam Schapiro called Womanhouse. It was built as a safe space for female artists to explore their potential outside the ‘the presence and expectations of men’. In 1974, the artist created what is now known as her most controversial work, “The Dinner Party,” a series of plates inscribed with vaginal imagery. The exhibition was dismissed by most critics as vulgar and removed from public viewing until 2007.
Chicago has worked to represent manifestations of femininity through the promotion of creative activities that are often considered ‘craft’ rather than ‘art’, needlework and glass-blowing being some of the prime targets. As a result, in 2004, the Moore College of Art & Design honored her with the Visionary Woman Award. She continues to produce new work, often in collaboration with her third husband Donald Woodman, and is an active figure in the American art world. Chicago lives and works in New Mexico.
1939 - Born in Chicago
1944 - Begins attending painting lessons for children at the Art Institute of Chicago
1953 - Loses her father to peritonitis
1959 - Meets Jerry Gerowitz, with whom she subsequently moved to New York
1961 - Marries Gerowitz
1962 - Receives her BA from UCLA
1963 - Loses her husband in a car accident
1964 - Graduates from UCLA with a Master’s degree
1965 - Exhibits her work at the Rolf Nelson Gallery
1992 - Receives an honorary doctorate from the Russel Sage College
2008 - Becomes an Honoree of the National Women’s History Project
1979 - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
1996 - Cline LewAllen Contemporary, Santa Fe
2002 - National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC
2006 - Centre Pompidou, Paris
2007 - Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles
2008 - Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao
2008 - Moderna Museet, Stockholm
2009 - Kunsthaus Zurich
Museums / Collections
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Cleveland Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
New Orleans Museum of Art
Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe
Getty Trust, Los Angeles
British Museum, London
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
Books / publications
“The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation” by Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman
“Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education” by Judy Chicago
“The Dinner Party: Restoring Women to History” by Judy Chicago and Arnold L. Lehman
“Judy Chicago” by Lucy R. Lippard and Viki D. Thompson Wylder
“Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist” by Judy Chicago