Judy Chicago’s Retrospective at the New Museum

Judy Chicago: Herstory (installation view). All photos by Zarastro Art.

Judy Chicago: Herstory, the New Museum’s retrospective, offers a comprehensive journey through the artist’s remarkable six-decade career. Best known for her groundbreaking work, “The Dinner Party,” a sprawling tribute to influential women, Chicago dedicated her career to triumphing over sexism and feminizing the landscape.

Judy Chicago: Herstory (installation view). All photos by Zarastro Art.

The exhibition takes the audience through Chicago’s formative years, showcasing her early experiments with art influenced by minimalism and movements like “Light and Space.” This phase includes her exploration of unique mediums such as spray-painting car hoods, demonstrating her early commitment to breaking gender norms.

A significant focus is placed on Chicago’s renowned “smoke sculptures” or “Atmospheres.” These performances, captured in the California desert, are a central component, highlighting Chicago’s avant-garde approach to art. The exhibition provides insight into the conceptualization and execution of these groundbreaking feminist performances.

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While not physically present due to its permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the exhibition acknowledges the monumental impact of “The Dinner Party.” This room-sized installation celebrates influential women throughout history and remains one of Chicago’s most iconic works.

Chicago’s collaborations with her husband, Donald Woodman, are explored, with a particular emphasis on projects like the “Holocaust Project.” The exhibition showcases the diverse range of techniques employed by Chicago, from embroidery and ceramics to appliqué, screen printing, and spray paint.

Chicago’s exploration of profound and challenging subjects is a crucial component. The exhibition features works addressing themes like birth, motherhood, toxic masculinity, and the Holocaust. It offers viewers a deep dive into Chicago’s ability to tackle intense subjects with a blend of artistic skill and emotional resonance.

The fourth floor of the exhibition culminates in a remarkable presentation titled “City of Ladies.” This section features works by over 80 female artists resonating with Chicago’s vision. Loans from prestigious institutions like the Uffizi in Florence and the Metropolitan Museum of Art contribute to the exploration of the broader impact of feminist art.

The exhibition engages visitors with a participatory work on the top level, designed by Chicago in collaboration with Nadya Tolokonnikova of the activist feminist artist collective Pussy Riot. This interactive element invites responses from visitors, creating a dynamic and inclusive experience.

Criticisms aside, Chicago’s art, occasionally deemed crass, challenges conventional notions, compelling viewers to confront uncomfortable truths.


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