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Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago: 1939-****...United States

"You shouldn't have to justify your work."
~Judy Chicago

Born Judy Cohen in Chicago, Illinois, feminist artist Judy Chicago would become a world recognized artist by simply taking a stand on issues and communicating her opinion. "People have accepted the media's idea of what feminism is, but that doesn't mean that it's right or true or real. Feminism is not monolithic. Within feminism, there is an array of opinions." Her art studies began at the University of California in Los Angeles. By 1964 she had earned her Masters of Art degree. It was there that she began to push the boundaries of the female figure because one of her professors disliked her "breasts and wombs" artworks. He hated it, so she pushed the concept further. This was the beginning of a career that continues to be filled with what most would call feminist and sexually charged artworks. In a male dominated arena she continues to pictorially battle for what she believes. In short, she refuses to be down played by "man's society." Her refusal generally builds up and evolves into a project. Her projects are often many works or a large presentation that communicate her perspective on a wide range of issues. Her project include: The Birth Project (1984), Power play (1980s), The Holocaust Project (1993), Resolutions: A Stitch in Time (2000), and Into the Darkness (will not finish until 2010).

Perhaps her most known project was The Dinner Party. Because these projects are so complex, she completes these works by collaborating with many other artists and skilled crafts people. These people help create the many parts to the projects, in this case, they helped make everything from the embroidered place mats to the personalized china dinnerware. The Dinner Party represents a figurative banquet centering on the idea of women's struggle for power and acceptance in the world. "Because we are denied knowledge of our history, we are deprived of standing upon each other's shoulders and building upon each other's hard earned accomplishments. Instead we are condemned to repeat what others have done before us and thus we continually reinvent the wheel. The goal of The Dinner Party is to break this cycle." Along the forty-eight feet sides of this triangular table, there are thirty-nine place settings that are personalized for different important women throughout time. Those women are: (at table one from the beginning of time) Primordial Goddess, Fertility Goddess Ishtar, Kali, Snake Goddess, Sophia, Amazon, Hatshepsut, Judith, Sappho, Aspasia, Boudica, Hypatia, (table two from Christianity to Reformation) Marcella, St. Bridget, Theodora of Byzantium, Hrosvitha, Trotula of Salerno, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegard of Bingen, Petronilla de Meath, Christine de Pisan, Isabelle d’Este, Elizabeth I of England, Artemisia Gentileschi, Anna van Schurman, (table three American founders to Women’s Revolution) Anne Hutchinson, Sacajawea, Caroline Herschel, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emily Dickenson, Ethel Smyth, Margaret Sanger, Natalie Barney, Virginia Woolf, Georgia O’Keeffe. Another 999 women are inscribed on the white tile floor inside the table. Those women include: Amelia Earhart, Berthe Morisot, Cleopatra, Dorothea Lange, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Kathe Kollwitz, Juno, Mary Cassatt, and some 990 others. Chicago has personally written four books about the project, not to mention the many others that have written about this one project. In 2007, The Diner Party found a new home at the Brooklyn Museum, where it is on permanent display.

1979. Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, textile. Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Judy Chicago has taken the world on with her projects. Because of her impact on the art world, not to mention the world as a whole, she has been the recipient of four honorary doctorate degrees, including ones from Duke University, Lehigh University, Smith College, and Russell Sage College. She has also given knowledge to a new generation of artists as a teacher. She has worked at numerous universities including California Institute of the Arts, Indiana University, Duke University and Western Kentucky University. She currently lives and works in Belen, New Mexico.

One of the major topics of conversation and debate that Judy Chicago brings to the table, it a consideration about artists represented in museums and the points of view expressed at art museums. Chicago suggests that there should be an equality on the perspectives represented in a museum. "The numbers of women artists whose work is not hanging in the museums across from the Picassos and the de Koonings so that there can be an equitable playing field. That's what I would like to see—where you get to see his side, his view, and then you get to see her view, and then you get to make up your own mind. That level of openness and dialogue has been shut down by an art community that has controlled representation and insisted that only male representation has been important." But my question is, do we need both sides in an art museum? To me it is about quality of the art; not the gender, perspective, sexual orientation, agenda, nationality, race, religion, or any other personal trait of the artists that should merit their inclusion at a gallery. If that is the case, as a white male artist, I have no hope of inclusion into a gallery regardless of my skills because of the hundreds of white male artists already in the gallery. I feel it is an issue of quality and not a case of affirmative action. On some level Chicago may agree. "For those of us who are interested in seeing a more equitable society, the issue isn't whether the person is a man or a woman, the issue is what kind of program they are putting forward."

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063