One of the pioneers in promoting the feminist approach to art-making, Judy Chicago has been a leader and model for an art that seeks to effect social change. Articulating her egalitarian vision, she has been challenging the male-dominated art world for the past forty years, elevating women from the margins of society and history. Her most acclaimed work The Dinner Party, a testament to the power of revising Western history to include women, was a major step in the institutionalization of Feminist Art as a contemporary art movement.
This year, the audience has a rare opportunity to see early works of Judy Chicago. On view at Villa Arson in Nice, the exhibition Los Angeles, The Cool Years present less known works which are at the crossroads of the various movements such as Pop Art, Light and Space, Hard-edge and Minimalism.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Los Angeles emerged as a cultural powerhouse, giving birth to the aesthetics which is today referred to as Cool School. It was a mid-century style that combined both Pop and abstract expressionist influences alongside some homemade ingredients.
Living and working in California in the 1960s, Judy Chicago started to create works in relation to the ideas of Finish Fetish. The term was invented by art critics to ironically refer to a sort of Californian vernacular Pop art with a strong taste for materials such as plexiglass, Lucite, vinyl or polyester.
Ahead of Judy Chicago’s first museum retrospective in December 2018 at the Miami MOCA, the Villa Arson mounted a selection of her early works from the 1960s and 1970s. Brought together for the first time, the early works include paintings, sculptures and installations including Feather Room, which had never been re-created since 1967.
Curated by Geraldine Gourbe, the exhibition also features works by some other West Coast artists such as Marcia Hafif, John McCracken, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Pat O'Neill and DeWain Valentine. Be sure to check out this show which will be on view at Villa Arson in Nice until November 4th, 2018.
Let's take a look at some of the highlights of the show!
Featured images: Los Angeles, The Cool Years, The Installation View - J. Chicago, Rearrangeable Rainbow Blocks, 1965. Ph. F. Fernandez; Los Angeles, The Cool Years, The Installation View, B. Nauman - D. Velentin - J. Chicago. Ph F. Fernandez; Los Angeles, The Cool Years, The Installation View - J. Chicago, Feather Room, 1967-2018. Ph. F. Fernandez; Los Angeles, The Cool Years, The Installation View - J. Chicago, Feather Room, 1967-2018. Ph. F. Fernandez. All images courtesy of Villa Arson.
The work Flashback by Judy Chicago is deprived of organic shapes or personal iconography. It is also comprised of lines, circles, the colors black, yellow, red, and blue. The influence of Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg is evident in this early work.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Flashback, Version 2, 1965. Silkscreen printing, 40,6 x 50,8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
In a period when blank canvas and oil or acrylic paints were being replaced by car hoods and industrial paint, Chicago created works Flight Hood, Bigamy Hood and Birth Hood influenced by Billy Al Bengston's mechanical art.
Employing the spraypaint technique and industrial colors on the convex shape of the front of the car, she highlighted the exuberance of simple geometric forms in a composition defined by a symmetrical axis. The work evokes the West Coast abstract painting movement Hard-edge, as well as Pop Art's use of mass-produced objects.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Flight Hood, 1965-2011. Spray paint on hood of Corvair, 109 x 109 x 71,1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018; Judy Chicago - Birth Hood, 1965-2011. Spray paint on hood of Corvair, 109 x 109 x 11 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
This series of acrylic domes by Judy Chicago spans years 1986-1971. Laid out three at a time on tables with mirror tops, they are deployed of meaning. On the other hand, these works stimulate perception, making the colors dance. The artist herself explained:
Purple goes to rose, blue goes to aqua, green goes to chartreuse at edges.
Chicago managed to create sculptures which were colored in itself, providing color with a sculptural quality. Judy has been drawn to soft shapes - the perfection and magic of what is round.
Featured image: Los Angeles, The Cool Years, The Installation View , J. Chicago, The Domes, 1968-71. Ph. F. Fernandez; Judy Chicago - Polish Stainless Steel Domes, 1968. Sprayed acrylic paint on clear acrylic domes, resting on a mirror glass mounted on a Parsons acrylic table, base 38,1 x 38,1 x 10,2 cm, 3 dômes 5,8x25,4 cm de diameter. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018; Judy Chicago - Grey Domes with Solid Core , 1971. Acrylic paint sprayed on clear acrylic domes, resting on a tabletop mirror glass, acrylic Parsons, base 109 x 76 x 76 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
Referring to a very personal experience, the work Childhood's End features abstract motifs which Chicago describes as intimate forms of expression. However, this square divided into sixteen compartments, including spheres, does not evoke the personal theme suggested in the title.
Combining warm colors with the intense blue of the circles, Chicago created an abstracted imagery which lets the imagination go wild.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Childhood's End #2, 1972. Prismacolor on rag paper, dimensions framed 59,1 x 59,1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
Before developing the explicitly erotic iconography she is today best known for, Judy Chicago aligned herself with the Minimal Art movement. Her works were exhibited in a seminal 1966 show titled Primary Structures that is credited with launching the entire movement.
Exploring the limitations of color and the perceptive experience of the simplest geometric figures, Chicago created a work comprised of multicolored blocks, cylinders, cubes, that are laid out on the floor, inviting the viewers to walk through them and become part of it.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Rearrangeable Rainbow Blocks , 1965. Lacquer on aluminum, 12 elements: 6 blocks 30,5 x 30,5 x 121,9 cm and 6 blocks 61 x 61 x 30,5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
Having a completely different way of making Land Art, Judy Chicago started modifying the environment into a purple and soft universe between 1969 and 1974. Introducing a feminist impulsion in California, she conducted ephemeral actions with colored clouds hung everywhere in the sky.
Using fireworks, she created opaque clouds, a chaos which moves with the wind. To create this effect, she insisted on the importance of the fireworks placement and on the timing of their pop.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Purple Atmospheres #4, 1969. Fireworks, Santa Barbara CA. DVD 30’. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
The Feather Room by Judy Chicago is a truly immersive environment. A soft universe for visitors to penetrate, it was first recreated at Galerie Carrée of the art center after 1967 when it was staged at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in L.A. A room full of feathers, this installation was the first one belonging to the Californian art movement Light and Space.
Highlighting the void and the relation between the body and the environment, Feather Room goes further than New York Minimalism which was more attached to producing sculpture pieces, by claiming the volatile.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Feather Room, 1967-2018. Installation (plumes blanches et architecture douce). Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018
A series of large paintings made with spray paint on plexiglass, the Fresno Fans by Judy Chicago create a contrast with The Domes, produced during the same years. Playing with the minimalist notion of repetition, Chicago continues to develop a personal system of colors.
In one color category she uses opposite colors such as red with green or blue, in the second she goes from warm to cold colors, while the last one is comprised of essentially cold colors. These works are representative of the relation between space and color.
Featured image: Judy Chicago - Model for Fresno Fan # 6, 1971. Spray acrylic lacquer on acrylic, dimensions framed: 38,1 x 76,2 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94, New York. ADAGP 2018; Judy Chicago - Evening Fan from Fresno Fans series, 1971. Spray acrylic lacquer on acrylic, 152,4 x 304,8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94 Gallery, New York. ADAGP 2018