Judy Chicago and her “Purple Poem for Miami”

Judy Chicago and her “Purple Poem for Miami”

Clouds of violet, magenta, and indigo erupted from the Miami Design District and drifted across the city’s skyline. On February 23, 2019, Judy Chicago successfully softened the urbanscape through her performance, A Purple Poem for Miami. The artist is well known for her feminist approach to her art practice; inserting herself into otherwise male-dominated dialogues. Chicago began her Atmospheres series at the end of the 1960s but halted its production in 1974. The artist reignited the series in 2012, but on a larger scale. A Purple Poem for Miami is her sixth Atmospheres performance in seven years. By infusing the landscape with billows of colorful smoke, Chicago not only contributes her feminine voice to the land art movement but also signals the presence and awareness of women.

Judy Chicago (b.1939) also identifies herself as an educator, intellectual, and author. The artist forged an educational program for feminist art at California State University; this pedagogical accomplishment is a passion point to which she continues to contribute. Chicago left academia in 1974 to focus on her career as an artist. In her renowned artwork, The Dinner Party, 1979, visitors can experience this complex multimedia project: a symbolic history of women in the Western world sitting down to break bread together. Her work lays a foundation for women artists, celebrates achievements of other pioneers, and reveals the barriers that remain.

The artist’s Atmospheres series began in the 1960s with the intention of softening the landscape without violating nature. To create this bold feminist statement, she produced performances made of smoke, flares, and color; these pieces, impossible to ignore, set the deserts of California ablaze with art until 1974. Chicago wanted to transform nature through color; the tones that she blended in the air were based on her color systems from paintings of the same period. According to Vulture Magazine, she discontinued Atmospheres for two reasons: dwindling financial resources and because she was sexually harassed by the leader of the fireworks company where she apprenticed as a pyrotechnician (the only path at a time when there were no female pyrotechnicians). Her Atmospheres work reignited in 2012 but on a larger scale. A Purple Poem for Miami is her sixth art performance in seven years.

The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA Miami) is currently showing almost four decades of Chicago’s work through the exhibition Judy Chicago: A Reckoning. The site-specific work, A Purple Poem for Miami, composed of pyrotechnics, smoke bombs, and dry ice, required multiple visits, logistical preparation, and adherence to an intricate timeline. In ICA Miami’s documentary of the work, “Making a Purple Poem for Miami,”  Chicago says “I’m not shaping the site to the piece. I’m shaping my piece to the site.” She wanted the artwork to stoke a narrative that gradually exploded into a crescendo of purple smoke. She continually thought about the direction of the wind and the additional hues of blue and red that blended into the story of the artwork. For Chicago, the final piece is a gift, “because you can’t buy it. You can’t have it. You can just experience it.”

In transforming the landscape through her purple nebula, Judy Chicago is sending a message that women have a voice in the contemporary art conversation. Not only is the artist sharing her message through nature but she is also emphasizing the importance of women’s voice around the globe. The recording of Purple Poem for Miami is available on ICA Miami’s website; their exhibition, Judy Chicago: A Reckoning will be on view until April 21, 2019.