Ten Questions for Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979, © Judy Chicago Photo © Donald Woodman, www.judychicago.com | Judy Chicago, Turn Over a New Leaf (from Resolutions: A Stitch in Time), 2000, © Judy Chicago Photo © Donald Woodman, www.judychicago.com | Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, Bones of Treblinka (from the Holocaust Project), 1988, © Judy Chicago, www.judychicago.com
Judy Chicago is an artist, author, and educator whose work has significantly transformed the traditional art historical canon. She and her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, have collaborated throughout their marriage of twenty-five years in art projects and team teaching at such institutions as Western Kentucky University, Cal Poly Pomona, and Vanderbilt University. Through the Flower, a nonprofit Feminist art organization founded by Chicago in 1978 and based in New Mexico, serves the general public and especially K-12 schools by creating educational programs dedicated to communicating the importance of art and its power in countering the erasure of women’s achievements.
Judy Chicago, The Creation (from the Birth Project), 1984, © Judy Chicago, www.judychicago.com
CK: From the seminal work The Dinner Party (1979) to the present, do you think the art world has changed?
JC: Since the time I created The Dinner Party there have been many changes in the art world, which has become globalized. Women and artists of color are free to openly address issues of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in their work, which was not true when I was young. Moreover, there is no dominant style but rather a plethora of approaches to art-making, along with a wide range of media, all of which is to be celebrated. At the same time, in terms of the major museums, permanent collections continue to be only 3-5% women and only 2.5% of commercial solo art publications are devoted to women. This institutional resistance is what I set out change many decades ago.
CK: Many well-known artists today are women. How has your work as artist, photographer, and educator impacted the recognition and preservation of women’s achievements?
JC: Obviously, The Dinner Party, which traveled to sixteen venues in six countries and three continents to a viewing audience of over one million people, helped to educate many viewers about women’s achievements. Its permanent housing in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum is extending its reach, as people are coming to see it from all over the world. In addition to The Dinner Party, my other collaborative projects (the Birth Project, 1980-85; the Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, 1985-1993, created with Donald Woodman; and Resolutions: A Stitch in Time,1994-2000) helped to bring women’s experiences and perspectives into the art discourse. And over the course of its three decades of existence, Through the Flower has done exhibitions and programming aimed at highlighting women’s achievements in the arts.
CK: Are there challenges today that women artists face today that were not issues in the past?
JC: This is a difficult question for me to answer, given where I am in my career. However, from my perspective, the greatest challenge is that, as stated by the pioneering women’s historian Gerda Lerner, “women don’t know what women before them thought or taught” (and I would add created). Consequently, instead of being able to build upon the achievements of their predecessors, women artists are caught in the same cycle of repetition that The Dinner Party recounts.
CK: In recent years, “feminism” has taken on a wide spectrum of meanings both positive and negative. What does “feminism” mean to you?
JC: The definition of feminism is not a personal choice; it is a philosophy that dates back two hundred years or more, specifically to Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” published in 1792. Since that time, there have been many feminist theories, all of which advocate the political, social and economic equality of the sexes. Successive waves of feminist movements have attempted to achieve such equality in the face of fierce resistance because sexual equality would upend the structure of power on the planet.
CK: What do you think has been the greatest accomplishment to date of Through the Flower?
JC: Through the Flower has survived over the course of more than thirty years with little support from traditional funding sources and very few grants. Instead, it has been sustained by individuals who believed in my work and the goals of Through the Flower, thereby demonstrating the power of the individual to contribute to social change. I believe that this is an important model for alternative arts organizations, particularly those aimed at enlarging the art dialogue. Over this time, Through the Flower has provided a framework for my collaborative art-making which—in addition to producing works of art—empowered many of the participants. Moreover, given its modest staff and funding base, Through the Flower has managed to accomplish many significant goals. For more information, go to throughtheflower.org.
CK: Judy, you and Frances Borzello just published the book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face. Many conversations are focused on the so-called “death” of scholarly art publishing. What do you think is the future of print art publications?
JC: I hope that print art publications never end, because there is no digital version that is even close to providing the pleasure of the printed page in terms of images and text. That said, I believe that text-based print books will be replaced by digital forms. But fine art printing will survive because I cannot imagine a reader getting the same satisfaction viewing Frida Kahlo: Face to Face online as they will by holding this large format, sumptuously illustrated book in their hands and turning the pages to discover the many beautiful images and reading the texts.
CK: You continue to exhibit and your works continue to attract large audiences. What do you hope viewers come away with from your current show, Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010?
JC: Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010 at ACA Gallery, New York, from October 14 through December 4, 2010 is intended to provide a glimpse into my overall body of art. Although I am gratified by the attention The Dinner Party brought me, it is my abiding hope that one day it will be seen as only one work in a large and varied oeuvre. Hopefully the ACA show will be a step towards the achievement of this goal.
CK: You’ve contributed 367 images of your works to the ARTstor Digital Library and they’ve just gone live. Why did you decide to make your images available to educational and scholarly users via ARTstor?
JC: I wanted to make my images available via ARTstor because I recognize its crucial role in providing images to teachers and professors. My study of history taught me that many women artists have been erased from history and one of my goals has been to overcome that erasure—for myself, for the 1038 women represented in The Dinner Party, along with the countless women artists Through the Flower has exhibited and honored. I am deeply appreciative that ARTstor has accepted this gift and hope that it will prove useful.
CK: Has the digital medium impacted your work?
JC: The digital medium has definitely impacted both my work and my career. For example, several of my recent lithographs (from Retrospective in a Box, seven prints surveying my career) combine digital imagery with traditional lithography. The Internet has provided a means of sharing my work with a worldwide audience through my website, judychicago.com. And Through the Flower’s K-12 Dinner Party Curriculum is available online as a series of free, downloadable pdf files. These are just a few examples of the many ways in which the digital medium is transforming our lives.
CK: What inspires you to continue working and collaborating with other artists?
JC: I have always worked both individually and collaboratively. Some projects are best realized by one’s own hand while others require the participation of people with different skills. As to what inspires me? An ongoing passion for art, something that I’ve had since I was a child.
Judy Chicago’s current exhibition, Surveying Judy Chicago: 1970-2010, is on view from October 14, 2010 to December 4, 2010 at ACA Gallery, 529 20th Street, 5th Floor in New York City.
Judy Chicago and Frances Borzello’s new book, Face to Face: Frida Kahlo is published by Prestel and launched with a lecture and book signing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Chicago will be doing book events around the country with an English book tour to follow in June, 2011.
To learn more about Judy Chicago, go to www.judychicago.com.