Judy Chicago, 1939

  • Judy-Chicago-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and ArtsWoman Tags: Author, Educator, NYC Women, and Sculptress

  • HerStory

    A feminist artist, art educator, and writer.

    Judith Sylvia Cohen was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother inspired her passion for art, and by the age of three, she began to draw and attend classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. In college, she studied Fine Arts at UCLA and was active at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, designing posters for the organization and serving as its corresponding secretary. At 20, she met Jerry Gerowitz, they got married in 1961, but two years later, he died in a car accident. Widowed at 23, she had an identity crisis, which eventually led her to change her last name from Cohen to Chicago, freeing herself from being connected to a man, by heritage, or by marriage.
    In her art, Chicago experimented with different media types, from drawing and sculptures to acrylic plastic and even fireworks and pyrotechnics. At the age of 26, she had her first solo show at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in LA, been one of only four women to display their work in that event. In that same year, Chicago married the sculptor Lloyd Hamrol and stayed married for 14 years. At 31, she took a teaching position at Fresno State College. She opened a women-only class, which soon became a full Feminist Art Program – the first feminist art program in the US. She rented a studio off-campus with her students, and in addition to art collaborations, they held reading and discussion groups, exploring their experiences and translating them into art. In 1972, together with Miriam Schapiro, Chicago founded the Womanhouse – a Hollywood mansion which was turned into a workshop and exhibition space, where women can create and display their art. In 1978, she founded the “Through the Flower” – a non-profit feminist art organization for educating about the importance of art and promoting it as a tool for emphasizing women’s achievements.
    In 1979, Chicago exhibited her most known work for the first time – “The Dinner Party.” The piece is a large triangle table, set for 39 places, each one commemorates a mythical or historical female figure, such as Virginia Woolf, Sojourner Truth, and Empress Theodora of Byzantium. The artwork symbolizes the struggle for equality women face in male-dominant societies. In 1980, she began to work on the installation – Birth Project, in which she reinterpreted the Genesis creation narrative by using images of childbirth, emphasizing women’s role in giving life. In 1985, she returned to work independently in her studio. In her next piece, “PowerPlay,” she explored the construct of masculinity by replacing the male gaze with a female’s one. In the same year, she married photographer Donald Woodman, with whom she collaborated on “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light,” in which she examined her Jewish identity by exploring masculine power in the context of the Holocaust.
    Chicago continues to create and experiment with materials. In her art, she is challenging not only the male-dominated art world but also the conventional conceptions about society and women’s role in it. Her art has been exhibited all around the world and is on display in permanent collections in museums around the globe.

    “…what’s important is to give space to the range of human experience.”

    “…what’s important is to give space to the range of human experience.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her parents were active Marxists during the McCarthyism era and encouraged her to critical thinking.
    • She is a descanted of the Vilna Gaon.
    • Her father died when she was 14 years old. Her mother did not allow her and her brother to attend the funeral or to discuss his death. As an adult, she suffered from bleeding ulcer caused by unresolved grief.
    • At college, she was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
    • She has a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA.
    • She picked the name Chicago after a gallery owner began to call her by that name because of her Chicago accent and strong Chicagoan personality.
    • It took five years, the help of 400 volunteers, and the cost of $250,000 to complete and The Dinner Party.
    • She authored eight books.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * The UCLA Alumni Professional Achievement Award (1999)
    * Honorary degrees from numerous academic institutions, including Duke University, Lehigh University, Russell Sage College, and Smith College.
    * The Visionary Woman Award from Moore College of Art & Design (2004)
    * Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in (2021)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Booking.com

  • Judy Chicago on “Womanhouse”

    Judy Chicago shares her memories of Womanhouse, a groundbreaking feminist art installation from 1972. Organized by Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, in association with the Feminist Art Program at California Institute of the Arts, Womanhouse featured the work of twenty three women and explored issues related to feminine ideas of domesticity.

    Filmed in Washington D.C. in April, 2017. This video is part of the Judy Chicago Visual Archive at the The Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

  • Photo credit - Wikipedia