ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. â Mention the name Judy Chicago and most people flash on âThe Dinner Party,â her monumental 1979 feminist tribute to women, permanently installed in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
But the artist has lived in New Mexico for the past 30 years, producing a continuing series of artwork using everything from glass and embroidery to bronze and oil. As Chicago celebrates her 75th birthday, the New Mexico Museum of Art is honoring this landmark with a retrospective exhibition âLocal Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014. The exhibit focuses both on the artistâs large-scale public projects as well as smaller, more personal works.
Chicagoâs art has long confronted issues of gender, injustice, inequality, the atrocities of war and the environmental cost of nuclear dependence. These themes resonate throughout the exhibition from the âPower Playâ series (1982-86) and a large free-standing stained glass âRainbow Shabbotâ from âThe Holocaust Projectâ (1985-1993). Preliminary works and early studies for them as well as painting and photography combines made in collaboration with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, from âNuclear Waste(d)â (1988-1989) will also be on view.
Like the trail of artists before her, from Georgia OâKeeffe to Agnes Martin, Chicago visited New Mexico several times before buying and rehabbing the old Belen Hotel with Woodman in 1992. âSheâd been coming to Santa Fe quite a bit while âThe Dinner Projectâ was traveling,â Museum of Art chief curator Merry Scully said. âShe began working in a studio off Canyon Road.â
Chicago would remain here longer than her namesake home city, as well as Los Angeles, where she taught at Fresno State College and the California Institute for the Arts.
âItâs the first place sheâs bought property,â Scully said. âIt gave her the time and space to work independently.â
âPower Playâ (1982-87) is a series of drawings, weaving, paintings, cast paper and bronze reliefs replacing the male gaze with a feminist eye.
âIt explores gender and masculinity,â Scully said, â â a complete reversalâ of her earlier work.
The series germinated from a trip to Italy, where Chicago studied large-scale High Renaissance paintings and decided to work in traditional oils on linen, woven textiles, cast paper and bronze.
âShe wanted to explore masculinity â how itâs a socially created construct. Itâs about dominance and power and this kind of hidden emotion.â
âRather Rage Than Tearsâ (2012) is part of a suite of lithographs that includes âThe Return of the Butterflyâ (2013). âAging Woman/Artist/Jewâ (2012) reveals Chicagoâs current interest in aging. Its naked figure literally reveals all to the viewer as the word âtruthâ emerges from the artistâs mouth. Chicagoâs âHolocaustâ series with Woodman began with intensive, emotionally searing research across German and Europe. Raised by two secular Jews, Chicago began exploring her religious roots after marrying Woodman in a traditional ceremony, Scully said. The series features photo combines and stained glass, as well as drawings and paintings.
âIt was the first large-scale project they worked on together,â Scully said. âIt was also physically and emotionally grueling.â
Chicago and Woodman created âNuclear Waste(d)â as a commentary on the construction of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico in the late 1980s. The series of painting and photographic combines includes nuclear sites throughout the state, including the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb detonated, as well as uranium mining sites in Grants.
The exhibition also shows her more personal works, such as objects she made for use in a Passover Seder and porcelain sculptures memorializing her cats in âKitty City.â Chicago constructed âWomen of Valor/The Female Face of Pesachâ with fabric paint and embroidery on linen to depict significant women in Judaism.
In âKitty Cityâ Chicago created a series of watercolors and pencil studies detailing the daily life of the felines in the Chicago/Woodman household. Rather than anthropomorphizing the animals as four-legged humans, Chicago conducted her usual painstaking research, basing her series on a traditional Book of Hours (medieval devotional books). She also made ceramic sculptures in their likeness to permanently reign over the entrance of her home.
âShe tried to understand them on their own terms,â Scully said.
âLocal Colorâ is one of a series of exhibition, events and publishing activities marking the artistâs 75th birthday across the country.