Woman’s Building Brochure, Designed by Sheila de Bretteville, Photo Maria Karras
In addition to being a prolific artist and the author of eleven published books, Judy Chicago pioneered a unique, content-based pedagogy that helps art students find their individual voices while aspiring to aesthetic excellence. Her methodology dates back to the early 1970’s when she set up the first program aimed at women students at California State University, Fresno. At that time, although the preponderance of undergraduates in art school were female, few became practicing professionals. Chicago set out to change this; out of the fifteen Fresno students, nine became successful professional artists.
After a year, Chicago was invited to bring her program to the California Institute of the Arts (Cal-Arts), a new school north of Los Angeles, where she team taught with artist Miriam Schapiro. The Feminist Art Program produced Womanhouse, the first female-centered art installation. Womanhouse – whose reverberations are still felt today – jump-started the Feminist Art movement which went on to become a global phenomenon, introducing new subject matter, media and approaches to art making.
Womanhouse – Exhibited for one month in early 1972, Womanhouse was created by a group of Cal Arts students along with a small number of local L.A. women artists, all working with Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro in the Feminist Art Program. Thousands of people visited the exhibtion which was captured on film by Johanna Demetrakas, whose vivid documentary immortalized this iconic early feminist art installation. Womanhouse Catalogue cover (left image)
Cock and Cunt Play – This play, which was written by Judy Chicago during the first Feminist art program at Cal State, Fresno, was used by her as a pedagogical tool to help her students break through some of the limitations that grew out of the social construct of feminity. Later, it was performed as part of the Performace Workshop at Womanhouse, amusing and shocking many viewers with its ribald sendup of traditional gender roles. The play is reproduced in Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist, the first volume of Chicago's autobiography.
Bridal Staircase by Kathy Huberland, laments the reality of the romanticized version of marriage that was promoted during the post-war years in America. Instead of 'living happily ever after', this bride is faced with a blank wall at the end of the staircase she is about to descend, a poignant reminder of the many unhappy married women described in Betty Friedan's groundbreaking book - The Feminine Mystique.