Judy Chicago Retrospective to Look Beyond ‘The Dinner Party’

The largest exhibition of Chicago’s work to date at the de Young Museum in San Francisco will highlight the diversity of the artist’s oeuvre

judy chicago
Judy Chicago at the 2017 Yes! Gala at Brooklyn Museum Steven Ferdman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Over the course of her decades-long career, Judy Chicago has become an icon of contemporary art—in large part due to her most famous work, “The Dinner Party,” a feminist installation now housed at the Brooklyn Museum. But as Alex Greenberger reports for ARTnews, the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco is now preparing to honor the artist with a major retrospective that looks beyond “The Dinner Party,” exploring the broad range of Chicago’s diverse and pioneering works.

“Her importance within the history of art has been undeniably established,” Claudia Schmuckli, who is organizing the exhibition, tells Greenberger. “[B]ut a lot of people aren’t familiar with full extent of her practice.”

Chicago announced the exhibition, which will drop in May 2020, during her 80th birthday party in Belen, New Mexico, where she lives. (The event also included a multi-colored smoke show, designed by the artist herself, and the launch of Chicago’s line of red wines.) The show is due to feature around 100 pieces and, according to Greenberger, is “the largest exhibition of [Chicago’s] work to date.”

A major player in the Feminist Art movement, which sought to broaden the canon of art history to include women’s perspectives, Chicago burst into the limelight with the 1979 premiere of the “The Dinner Party.” The installation consists of a triangular table adorned with 39 place settings, each one honoring a different female figure from history and mythology—from Sappho, to Sacajawea, to Susan B. Anthony. Embroidered runners surround porcelain plates, many of them adorned with decidedly vaginal motifs. Though the installation drew criticism—both for its overt imagery and for its representation of race and gender identity—the work remains one of the most enduring artistic tributes to women’s accomplishments and abilities.

But both before and after “The Dinner Party,” Chicago made evocative, political works that encompassed a range of styles, mediums and themes. The new exhibition will explore, among other things, her Minimalist art, tapestries and figurative paintings. These pieces contemplate everything from feminist ideology, to environmental destruction, to the Holocaust. Indeed, among the works slated to go on display is “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness to Light,” a collaboration between Chicago and her husband Donald Woodman that incorporates painting, photography, stained glass and tapestry. The work, Chicago once wrote, is “structured as a journey into the darkness of the Holocaust and out into the light of hope.”

Eight decades into her life, Chicago remains as irrepressible and magnetic as ever. Just this Saturday, she opened a new gallery, Through the Flower Art Space, in Belen, and she is simultaneously preparing for several exhibitions, including one at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C., which will feature a new series exploring species extinction and human mortality. If the continued interest in her art—both old and new—is any indication, Chicago can rest assured that her legacy will endure as one that is dynamic and diverse.

“I’ve been working for a long time,” Chicago tells Greenberger. “I used to say I hope [I live long] enough to come out from behind the shadow of ‘The Dinner Party.’”

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