Judy Chicago The Natural World
Running through Judy Chicago’s practice is a deep and longstanding concern for the environment. This solo exhibition of works spanning 1973 to the present highlights the artist’s desires for both ecological harmony and just societies—desires that have fueled her art since her 1960s series Atmospheres, through to her more recent portraits of endangered species.
Chicago first turned to pyrotechnics in the late 1960s in an effort to feminize the creative atmosphere at a time when the southern California art scene was almost entirely male dominated. Between 1968 and 1974, Chicago executed a series of increasingly complex fireworks pieces that involved site-specific performances around California. Rather than cutting into the land or attempting to manipulate it as the male artists did, she sought to “soften and feminize the environment, if only for a moment.” She celebrated the earth with beautiful, transient colour, enveloping the earth as if it were truly a female “mother.”
In the 1990s, Chicago’s concern for climate change was expressed in a series of colour drawings, validating the dignity and life force of trees in the face of drought. In her more recent work, the artist continues exploring themes of death, including her own mortality as well as the mortality of entire ecosystems that have been irreparably damaged by the action, or inaction, of humans. Between 2019 and 2020 Chicago created Before It’s Too Late, a series of portraits of endangered animals in the American Southwest. Using china paint on porcelain, her materials are a reflection of life itself—simultaneously hard and fragile.
Since March 2020, Chicago has been creating artwork in response to life during the current pandemic and the feelings of isolation that it has caused. Her creative impulse culminates with Garden Smoke—a set of 12 prints that document a series of intimate “smoke sculptures” that Chicago created in her personal gardens in Belen and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The smoke-performance works were photographed and printed by Chicago’s artistic and life partner, Donald Woodman, in Belen, where the couple lives and works.
In all of these works, Chicago asks viewers to contemplate their own fate as it is tied to the treatment of other species and the planet, and to understand the works’ foundation in the feminist principle that justice for women is connected to the need for a global justice that includes the humane treatment of all creatures.
This exhibition coincides with Chicago’s site-specific smoke-performance A Tribute to Toronto, being presented at Sugar Beach on June 4, 2022, as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art.
Judy Chicago (b. 1939, Chicago, IL) has worked for six decades pioneering Feminist art and art education. She has work in the collections of the British Museum, Moderna Museet, Tate, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, Getty Trust and Getty Research Institute, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and over 25 university art museums such as Brandeis, Cornell, Harvard, Illinois, Michigan, UCLA, Canterbury (New Zealand) and Cambridge (UK). Over the past four years. Chicago’s work has been exhibited in a broad range of major thematic group shows such as Pacific Standard Time: Made in LA at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Ends of the Earth at Haus der Kunst, Berlin; Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler at the Rose Art Museum; Waltham, MA and The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern, London. Recent museum surveys include Judy Chicago: A Reckoning at the ICA Miami (2018); The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2019) and her first retrospective at The De Young Museum, San Francisco CA (2021). Chicago lives and works in Belen, NM and is represented by Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.