Judy Chicago


Judy Chicago : biography

20 July 1939 –

Style and work

Chicago trained herself in "macho arts," taking classes in auto body work, boat building, and pyrotechnics. Through auto body work she learned spray painting techniques and the skill to fuse color and surface to any type of media, which would become a signature of her later work. The skills learned through boat building would be used in her sculpture work, and pyrotechnics would be used to create fireworks for performance pieces. These skills allowed Chicago to bring fiberglass and metal into her sculpture, and eventually she would become an apprentice under Mim Silinsky to learn the art of porcelain painting, which would be used to create works in The Dinner Party. Chicago also added the skill of stained glass to her artistic tool belt, which she used for The Holocaust Project. Photography became more present in Chicago’s work as her relationship with photographer Donald Woodman developed.Wylder and Lippard, 6 Since 2003, Chicago has been working with glass.

Collaboration is a major aspect of Chicago’s installation works. The Dinner Party, The Birth Project and The Holocaust Project were all completed as a collaborative process with Chicago and hundreds of volunteer participants. Volunteer artisans skills vary, often connected to "stereotypical" women’s arts such as textile arts.

Early personal life

Judy Chicago was born Judith Sylvia CohenLevin in Bloch and Umansky, 305 in 1939, to Arthur and May Cohen, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father came from a twenty-three generation lineage of rabbis, including Vilna Gaon. Unlike his family predecessors, he would become a labor organizer and a Marxist. Arthur worked nights at a post office and during the day he would take care of Chicago, while May, who was a former dancer, worked as a medical secretary. Arthur’s active participation in the American Communist Party, liberal views towards women and support of worker’s rights, strongly influenced Chicago’s way of thinking and belief system.Levin in Bloch and Umansky, 306 During the 1950s McCarthyism era, he was investigated, which caused him to struggle to find work, and caused the family much turmoil. In 1945, while home alone with her infant brother, Ben, an FBI agent visited the home. The agent began to ask the six-year-old Chicago questions about her father and his friends, but the agent was interrupted upon the return of May to the house. Arthur’s health declined, and he died in 1953 from peritonitis. May would not discuss his death with Chicago and Ben, and did not allow the children to attend the funeral. Chicago would not reflect on his death until she was an adult, and in the early 1960s she would be hospitalized for almost a month with a bleeding ulcer attributed to unresolved grief.Felder and Rosen, 279.

May loved the arts, and instilled her passion for them in her children, as evident in Chicago’s future as an artist, and brother Ben’s eventual career as a potter. At age of three, Chicago began to draw and was sent to the Art Institute of Chicago to attend classes.Wydler and Lippard, 5. By the age of 5, Chicago knew that she "never wanted to do anything but make art." She applied, but was declined attendance at the Art Institute, and attended UCLA on a scholarship.

Through the Flower

In 1978, Chicago founded Through the Flower, a non-profit feminist art organization. The organization seeks to educate the public about the importance of art and how it can be used as a tool to emphasize women’s achievements. Through the Flower also serves as the maintainer of Chicago’s works, having handled the storage of The Dinner Party, before it found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum. The organization also maintained The Dinner Party Curriculum, which serves as a "living curriculum" for education about feminist art ideas and pedagogy. The online aspect of the curriculum was donated to Penn State University in 2011.