Whitehot Magazine

Cultural Rebels: The Art of Defiance: Judy Chicago in Conversation with Coco Dolle

Installation view, Judy Chicago: What if Women Ruled the World?, Jeffrey Deitch, New York, 2020. Photo: Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York.

By COCO DOLLE, December 2020

For over four decades, artist Judy Chicago has become the quintessential role model for the dedicated feminist artist who has fiercely marked new canons of (her)story. With her passionate, authentic, assertive and impressive practice, she has created a seminal and infamous body of work featured in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum and The National Museum of Women in the Arts. As an activist, Judy has been devoted to fostering new spaces for women artists since the 1970's, starting with The Woman’s Building and pursuing her mission with Through the Flower Foundation. Presently exhibiting in New York at the Jeffrey Deitch, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions. 

COCO DOLLE: Your monumental works stand like temples against the lack of awareness of the battles women have fought and the lessons they’ve taught. You once quoted historian Gerda Lerner, that “Women live in a state of trained ignorance” further emanating your concerns on how we live a cycle of repetition bound to be fighting the same all over again. Do you believe the art world and its players have a responsibility to help break this cycle of repetition? And how should they continue to re-educate the public at large? 

JUDY CHICAGO: Many people do not understand that art objects are value laden in that what is preserved and passed on shapes the future's view of reality. The fact that - for so many centuries - white male, Eurocentric art has been dominant reflects the larger political and social reality. We have all grown up in the shadow of a value system that privileges this art over all others. Whose responsibility is it to change this? That is the question you are posing. 

As much as I would hope that the 'art world' would act to change this paradigm, no one gives up power voluntarily so it would be naive to suggest that this will happen. Thus it falls on those who have been outside this structure, along with those few individuals within it who believe in equity and justice, work to make change, which is what my life and art have been dedicated to. 

What if Women Ruled the World? Banner, 2020 Embroidery and brocade on velvet backed fabric ©Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society, NY Photo © Donald Woodman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York

CD: The exhibition “What if Women Ruled the World” at Jeffrey Deitch, presenting your recent collaboration with Dior and its creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri, displays majestic and graceful appliqué tapestry banners and preparatory drawings touching on the subjects of parenting and gender stereotypes, laying out important questions on climate and violence in this world. Can you tell us more about your collaboration experience and how perhaps the cross-pollination of minds of women activists from different backgrounds might be beneficial to social transformation? 

JC: Again, I am not sure how to answer this question because I am an artist who longs for - and works for - profound social transformation. At the same time, I am critically aware of arts' limits. Art can educate, inspire and empower viewers but it is people who ultimately have the power to create social transformation. My collaboration with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Dior was the greatest creative opportunity of my career, not only because of Dior's resources, which allowed a project of huge scale, but because it provided a global platform for my work and my ideas. The press book about the 'Female Divine' project was 1000 pages long and the project is having a long life as it will go from the Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.  My collaboration with Maria Grazia - who is a dedicated feminist - reached from the small town in New Mexico (where I live) to Paris to Mumbai where the banners were fabricated at a school that Dior supports, and that teaches embroidery to women so that they might become independent in a country where embroidery is a male craft. To be able to spread female empowerment so far was thrilling and demonstrated a way that art and fashion can be fused to create social change. 

Judy Chicago with Smoke, 2019 © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, New York

CD: In parallel to surviving despite of male centric art, your studio practice and smoke works circulate multiple layers and explosions of colors vibrating from psychedelia to minimalism. How important is color as a catalyst in your daily practice? When did color settle in for you?

JC: In the 1960's, I began to work on color systems that could create emotive states. I used my color theories not only in my paintings and sculptures but also in my fireworks and 'smoke sculptures'. Unleashing color into the air allows it to merge with natural forces like wind, light and the natural environment. My goal of softening and feminizing the environment can also be seen as a challenge to the male-centered land art movement which 'dominated' the landscape with bulldozers, earth movers and permanent markers. It has taken many decades for my artistic alternative to be understood and appreciated. Perhaps this recent recognition can be explained by the fact that what the human species (and men in particular) has done to the Earth has resulted in such harm to the planet and other creatures that it might, in the end, destroy us as well. 

CD: I believe many artists today strongly resonate with one of your statements, that “at this moment of history, feminism is humanism”. What would you say are the challenges facing us in a new statement for the future youth? 

JC: If this is true, it would be very gratifying to me because the world young people are facing is rife with problems and challenges, not the least of which is constructing a new paradigm, one based on equity and justice for all. As I implied in my first answer, art is the symbol face of reality. A new paradigm in art can represent the beginning of a new era on the Earth. I implore young artists to use their talents to contribute to the social change that can bring this about 'before it is too late'. WM


Coco Dolle

Coco Dolle is a French-American artist, writer, and independent curator based in New York since the late 90s. Former dancer and fashion muse for acclaimed artists including Alex Katz, her performances appeared in Vogue and The NY Times. Over the past decade, she has organized numerous exhibitions acclaimed in high-end publications including Forbes, ArtNet, VICE, and W Magazine. She is a contributing writer for L’Officiel Art and Whitehot Magazine. As an artist, her work focuses on body politics and feminist issues as seen at the Oregon Contemporary (OR) and Mary Ryan Gallery (NYC).


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