Judy Chicago (born 1939) was an American artist and activist best known for large-scale collaborative installation artworks - "The Dinner Party" and "The Birth Project" - both based on feminist themes and "The Holocaust Project" - based on the atrocities committed by the Nazi Party during World War II.
Judy Chicago was born Judith Cohen in Chicago, July 20, 1939. She assumed the surname of her hometown in 1969 to assert her independence from the patrilineal convention which gives a woman the surname of a father or husband. The daughter of political activists, her father was a union organizer, and her mother was a professional in a time when women working outside of the home were rare. Chicago studied at the Art Institute of California and later at the University of California at Los Angeles. Married three times, the artist lived and worked in Benicia, California.
Judy Chicago first gained recognition in the 1960s as Judith Gerowitz and did large, highly crafted sculptures of simple geometric forms that could be termed "minimalist." Eschewing the more traditional sculptural media of bronze and stone, Chicago worked in a variety of materials: painting on porcelain, airbrush painting on automobile hoods, and using fireworks to make drawings in the air. From the early 1970s her work focused on feminist themes, often using the motif of a flower or butterfly to symbolize a woman's sexuality and incorporating conversational language written directly on the artwork. Her work was always noted for its high level of technical finish. In addition to her artwork, Chicago taught college art classes, established the first feminist art programs and galleries, and very notably started Womenspace, an all-female art collective.
Judy Chicago is an author, feminist, educator, and artist whose career now spans four decades. Throughout her career, Chicago has endeavored to give women control over "the recording of history, the dissemination of information, the transmitting of new values."A feminist art program that she founded in 1970 was designed to help women art students develop a positive sense of identity and to validate female experience as a source of artistic content. She is also the creator of one of the most influential installations of the late 20th century, The Dinner Party (1979). At a time when women artists had few role models and even fewer opportunities for recognition and success, Chicago looked to her foremothers for inspiration, and began to explore identity and other issues from a woman's perspective. To this day—as an artist, a feminist, and a populist—Chicago believes that each and every person is capable of changing the way others see, think and act in the real world.
Judy Chicago's recent projects have included Autobiography of a Year, a series of 140 drawings, and Resolutions, a project that includes work by sixteen artisans employing needlework and textile arts along with painting. Chicago has also written two autobiographies and published a number of books in conjunction with her art.
Chicago turned her attention to the subject of women's history to create her best-known work, The Dinner Party, executed with the participation of hundreds of volunteers. She conceptualized the project as a reinterpretation of the Last Supper where "women would be the honored guests." Triangular in configuration, The Dinner Party is made up of an immense open table, covered with white cloths and set with 39 place settings, each of which commemorates an important historical woman. The whole installation rests on a porcelain surface called the Heritage Floor which is inscribed with the names of 999 additional women of historical significance.
Ultimately, The Dinner Party evolved into a monumental symbolic interpretation of the history of women in Western civilization, from Paleolithic to modern times. For the plate designs, Chicago developed symbols for each "guest" based on flowers, butterflies, vulvae, and historical motifs. In the needlework designs of the table cloths, she created a context for each plate through visual reference to the person's life and times. By combining a distinctly female image system with the techniques of women's cultural production and domestic labor, Chicago created work that both embodied and portrayed the powerful history of women's achievements. This monumental multimedia project has been seen by more than one million viewers, and has been displayed in fifteen exhibitions in six different countries. The Dinner Party is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.