In the past few decades, Judy Chicago has become an icon of contemporary art, originally due to her most famous work, “The Dinner Party” (1974–1979). The installation was hailed as the first epic feminist artwork, serving to symbolize the history of women in civilization. There are 39 elaborate place settings arranged along a triangular table for 39 historical and mythical women. The installation was originally debuted in San Francisco but is now housed at the Brooklyn Museum after acquiring it in 2002.
Judy Chicago will soon find herself back in San Francisco, except this time for a major retrospective that looks beyond “The Dinner Party,” and explores the artist’s full range of diverse and pioneering works at the M. H de Young Museum. The exhibition will open in May 2020 and was recently announced by the artist at her 80th birthday party celebration in Belen, New Mexico, where she resides.
Chicago is widely hailed among the pioneering artists to come out of the Feminist Art Movement of the 70’s, in which she played a major role through her work. The Dinner Party brought her worldwide fame but the planned exhibition intends to explore the full breadth of her work, spanning many decades and mediums.
“I’ve been working for a long time,” Chicago told ARTnews. “I used to say I hope lived long enough to come out from behind the shadow of The Dinner Party.”
Chicago has seen a global resurgence in the past decade after several of her works appeared in shows across the world. This included places like the Getty Foundation but also major art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, which showed a survey of 40 Chicago works. The de Young exhibition however, plans to be even more ambitious, with around 100 pieces.
Chicago is still producing work and is currently preparing a series entitled “The End”, which will be displayed in September at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The series will be focused on mortality and death and some works will be included in the 2020 retrospective.
As the exhibition aims to show Chicago beyond The Dinner Party, the installation won’t be included as it’s on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum. Claudia Schmuckli, who is organizing the show at the de Young, said that it was important not to center the exhibition around the work, but related works will certainly be included. “Her importance within the history of art has been undeniably established, but a lot of people aren’t familiar with full extent of her practice,” Schmuckli said.
Examples of Chicago’s works that are less popular but arguably just as important include her earlier experiments with color, feminist reinterpretations of Minimalist aesthetics, fiber works, tapestries and canvases about extinction.
When Chicago was asked about a work that she is most excited to be seen again at the de Young exhibition, she mentioned “The Holocaust Project,” a 1985–93 series, that questions the ideas of power and powerlessness as they relate to the persecution of Jewish people in the second world war. “It echoes what’s happening now, again, and it’s prescient, unfortunately. I think there’ll be a lot of discoveries in Claudia’s show.” Judy said.