Through the Flower, December 2014
What an incredible year this has been and many thanks to our friends and supporters. It has been wonderful to see so many of you at the various events and to be able to share some of the exciting moments of my 75th birthday year. So much has happened that I can only point out some of the highlights.
Circa 75 opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. where I did a conversation with historian Jane Gerhard, moderated by museum director Susan Fisher Sterling. Jane's book, "The Dinner Party: Judy Chicago and the Power of Popular Feminism," is a must-read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of The Dinner Party and how it was exhibited around the world—thanks to an unprecedented grass-roots tour overseen by Diane Gelon and Through the Flower.
From Washington (where a mild snowstorm virtually closed down the town), we went to Boston to visit the Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America at Radcliff/Harvard where my paper archives reside. I did another conversation with Jane, moderated by historian Nancy Cott, and enjoyed Through the Archives, an exhibition from my archive, along with the first of many birthday cakes at a meeting with the dedicated Schlesinger Library staff.
Next on our tour was New York. Fortunately, my wonderful husband, Donald, was with me. Every morning, he braved the often inclement weather to get us Starbucks coffee. We were in the Big Apple for the opening of The Very Best of Judy Chicago, a survey show sponsored by Nyehaus at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City where there was yet another birthday cake. In April, I did a conversation at Mana with art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch. Like all the events, it was crowded and the enthusiastic audience response to both the show and the dialogue was extremely gratifying.
On that same trip, Elizabeth Sackler and I did a conversation at the Brooklyn Museum about my recent book, "Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education," which Publisher's Weekly deemed "...a powerful conversation starter" and in "Hyperallergic" (July 14, 2014), Tiernan Morgan stated that "Chapter Seven...which cooly lays out the difficulties that graduate students will face, should be required reading for all prospective art students."
After just a few weeks at home, we went back to New York for a month where we were greeted by a great blurb in the "Week Ahead" section of the Sunday NY Times about Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago's Early Work, 1963–74, curated by Catherine Morris, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. We barely had time to attend the press preview before we headed to Penn State for their weekend-long symposium on art education, convened as part of the campuswide, semester-long celebration of my art education archive, which has been so well-used since its acquisition that the storage boxes had to be completely replaced.
We spent all of April in New York for a range of activities: the official opening of Chicago in L.A. (which was seen by 100,000 people); so many interviews that I got sick of hearing myself talk; and — for the first time in my life — consistently good reviews of all of the exhibitions (which proves that if you live long enough, you never know what might happen). At the end of an extremely busy month, thanks to the generosity of Barbara and Eric Dobkin (with a little help from Nancy Berman and Barbara Lee), I was able to accomplish a long-held goal: demonstrating that a woman artist working at the same level of ambition as innumerable male artists over the century could garner comparable support.
Between 1968 and 1974, I created over thirty fireworks pieces that have recently begun to receive considerable attention. Although this aspect of my work was interrupted (for a number of reasons), in 2012, thanks to the Getty's Pacific Standard Time Performance Festival, I was able to pick up where I left off four decades ago. Working with Chris Souza and Pyro Spectaculars (a six generation fireworks company), I did a series of new pyrotechnic pieces which culminated in A Butterfly for Brooklyn on an acre of land in Prospect Park, the largest and most complex fireworks undertaking of my career.
On April 9, 2015, we will premiere a video about this piece at the Brooklyn Museum, edited by award-winning film editor, Kate Amend, and her assistant, Helen Kearns. The next evening, I will discuss my fireworks with art historian and curator, Elissa Auther, at the Museum of Arts and Design. Our goal with the video is to share what happened in Prospect Park, which caused me to weep tears of joy. Thousands of people — 12,000 in the park and countless others in surrounding buildings — watched the Butterfly unfold, then erupted into riotous color and dazzling effects. At the end, the audience burst into spontaneous applause and then somehow, they all began singing "Happy Birthday."
It seems important to point out that the butterfly (which is an early symbol of the goddess) has been a recurring image in my career, one that - until that evening - has often been met with resistance, hostility and vitriol. All that changed on April 26th when my female-centered symbol was completely understood and embraced, something for which I have worked for over five decades.
As soon as we returned from New York, I was busy in the studio preparing for my Santa Fe shows, first, Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984–2014, curated by Merry Scully at the New Mexico Museum of Art — a companion show to the one in Brooklyn in that together, the two exhibitions provided a survey of my career. I was quite nervous before the opening because much of the work was unknown and every artist's worst nightmare is the comment: "Her earlier work was better." Thus my delight when 1200 people attended the public opening and the response was absolutely amazing. Countless strangers came up to me and said: "I am completely overwhelmed," which made me feel glad that I have pursued my own vision even when that put me crosswise with an art world that often eschews meaning in favor of commerce.
The first two weeks of June were spent going back and forth from Belen to Santa Fe to work on the installations of Local Color and then, Heads Up, a show of my recent work (in glass, bronze and ceramics) at David Richard Gallery. While out for a long walk, I was shocked to see Elizabeth Sackler driving up the road I was traversing. She had come to New Mexico to surprise me at the opening of Heads Up, another wonderful birthday present.
Because we'd been away so much this year, I was eager for some uninterrupted months in the studio which is where I spent most of the summer. In September, we went back to New York for a brief visit in order to attend a fete in celebration of Elizabeth Sackler becoming the chair of the board of the Brooklyn Museum, the first woman in the museum's 200 year history. While at the festive party, Elizabeth introduced me to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced that he was a fan of my work.
The last lap of this marathon year took place in Denver where — on October 16th — I presented a sold-out lecture on my work at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. The next night, an expanded version of Surveying Judy Chicago, 1970-2014 opened at Redline, curated by Simon Zalkind (with Mikaela Lamarche, who oversaw the show from its first inception in 2010 at ACA Gallery in NY to the Crocker Museum in Sacramento and then to the Palmer Museum at Penn State). Simon added work from Heads Up along with some great wall text that clearly demonstrated his deep understanding of my body of art. This was my first major exhibition in Denver and the opening drew 500 enthusiastic viewers along with a great review in the Denver Post that featured the headline: "Judy Chicago at Denver's Redline honors great American troublemaker," which I loved. The next day, I did a book event about "Institutional Time" at the Tattered Cover, one of the country's few remaining independent bookstore. All in all, Denver was great but — like the rest of the year — extremely intense.
Now we're home and relishing the blue skies, warm climate and fall light of New Mexico. Thanks again to everyone who participated in helping to make my 75th birthday such an unforgettable year. I hope that all our friends and supporters have a happy holiday season and look forward to communicating in the new year about some of the exciting activities that are coming up in 2015, thanks to your ongoing support.
Looking back, Celebration 2014 marking Judy Chicago's 75th birthday has also been an amazing year for Through the Flower, both for what we have accomplished as well as for projects we are now working on for 2015 and beyond. Our aim of creating and preserving a lasting historic legacy continues; to do this we remain committed to partnering with appropriate institutions as well as to serving as an independent resource center for researchers.
However, we couldn't have done this without your continuing support. We want to thank all our friends and members for their contributions to our funds this year honoring Judy and her achievements. You've helped us in our mission. For those friends who still want to participate in Celebration 2014 and show support for our goals, it's not too late — the Judy Chicago Birthday Fund and the $75 for 75 fund will remain open until year-end.
In her year-end letter, Judy has highlighted some of the major events of 2014. But the legacy that we want to preserve is even more far-reaching and indirect than it first appears — there is the power of Judy Chicago's art to inspire action and effect change in so many areas outside the traditional exhibition space. Below are three brief examples showing the power of art that we found very moving and want to share with you. The full articles on Shared Dining and Notre Dame High School, San Jose, appear on our website in the Legacy section How Art Can Inspire.
Shared Dining by Women of York
Drawing inspiration from The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, Shared Dining (2013-2014) is a collaborative work of art conceived and created by ten women who identify themselves under the collective name, Women of York—a reference to York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut where all of the women are, or were, incarcerated.
"Inspired by The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago and the women in it, we were moved to honor the women who have touched our lives. Our plates represent their strength, struggles, courage and achievements. These women are models of who we aspire to be. We have not been limited by the lack of resources; our imagination, resourcefulness, and creativity allowed us to turn commonplace objects into art."
Notre Dame High School, San Jose, California
We recently received a letter from Mary Beth Riley, the principal of Notre Dame High School, telling us how The Dinner Party was the genesis for a major multi-genre project that has since become a significant part of the school's curriculum.
"I am writing to let you know that your work has inspired an entire generation of young women at Notre Dame High School in San Jose! For the last 19 years, all Notre Dame 9th grade students have studied your iconic feminist art installation, The Dinner Party, as an introduction to our Woman's Place Project. Sister Maureen Hillard (Sister of Notre Dame de Namur) first viewed your exhibit in San Francisco. Moved by the powerful message of women's contribution, Sister Maureen adapted the project for her 9th grade religious studies class in 1994... For Notre Dame students, this is a cornerstone experience and begins to establish their identity as women of the world..."
Dining Hall at Oxford to Honor Female Alums
The last example is a brief article that appeared in the New York Times in September 2014.
"Hertford College, one of the first colleges at Oxford University to admit women for both housing and instruction, is celebrating 40 years of coeducation by belatedly giving women a full place at the table, figuratively speaking. In a high-table twist on Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," the longstanding all-male portrait gallery of luminaries in Herford's dining hall will be replaced with photographs of distinguished female fellows and alumnae...
"It's not just that our previous portraits were all of men, but more that they represented a narrow definition of achievement, and a very hierarchical one," Emma Smith, a fellow and lecturer in English at the college and organizer of the exhibition said in a statement. ‘Our new portraits show that we are as proud of unsung achievement and of potential as we are of high office or salary."
It is instances such as these that so demonstrate the remarkable legacy that Judy Chicago has created through her work and her vision, and why it is so important that this legacy be preserved for future generations.
Again, we thank you for your response to Celebration 2014 and look forward to your ongoing support in the years ahead.