Over the past forty years, she has worked in an unusually wide range of media, including ephemeral pyrotechnic and atmospheric displays, live performances, painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and both individual works of art and mixed media installations drawing on crafts such as china-painting, ceramics, needlework, tapestry and glass. In Los Angeles during the 1960s, she combined the chromatic luminosity and technical polish of the L.A. “finish fetish” movement with spare, minimalist forms. In the early 1970s, she pioneered Feminist Art and art education through unique programs for women at California State University-Fresno and later the California Institute of the Arts.
This work led her to The Dinner Party, a mixed media tribute to the cultural achievements of women in history, created with assistance from hundreds of volunteers during the late 1970s. She next brought a critical feminist gaze to the Birth Project (1980-85); Powerplay (1982-87); the Holocaust Project (1985-93); and Resolutions: A Stitch in Time (1995-2000). Her most recent body of work, Chicago in Glass, makes use of hand imagery to explore issues of human vulnerability and mortality and the choices we make between relationship building on the one hand and rejection or aggression on the other.
Chicago’s books, including her tenth, an expanded text on The Dinner Party (Merrell, 2007), have brought her art and ideas to readers around the world. She is the recipient of numerous grants, awards and honorary degrees. Her work is frequently exhibited and is in many distinguished collections, including those of the British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Getty Trust, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A retrospective of her career was presented at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2002-2003.
Feminist Artist Statement
I have continued to create art with this goal in mind, and I have seen many positive changes, many of them brought about by the women’s movement. At the same time, feminism has been turned into a dirty word. Several generations of young women—along with many of their male peers—have been persuaded that two centuries of effort by countless women and some men which brought previously unheard of rights and opportunities to these same young women was not something to be proud of, but rather to disown.
Why do I insist upon being called a Feminist artist now, in the 21st century, when many pundits insist we live in a post-feminist world? My definition of such a world involves a toppling of the hierarchy of white male dominance. Since neither our male-dominated world nor the art museums that carry its visual messages have changed enough, I see no reason to abandon the feminism which is one of the few alternative philosophies around. Also, as my underlying feminist philosophy shapes my art, I remain a Feminist artist. It is also important to note that Feminist art is an ongoing, contemporary art movement. It is practiced today by women artists—and some men—all over the globe. It is stylistically diverse yet always focused on the authentic, distinctive, personal content of each artist, a personal content mediated by culture, geography, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and all the many attributes of human individuality.
Do I still hope that Feminist Art can make a difference in the world? My answer is yes. I continue to believe that we need an art that can help us see the world through other people’s eyes and thereby lead us to a future where the world will be made at least a little more whole.