In this rarely exhibited miniature tableau, the artist transitioned between the small-scale Multicolor Rearrangeable Game Board (1965–66), which echoed the rectangular shapes and saturated colors of her larger minimalist sculptures, and the translucent, mirrored surfaces and organic, sensual shapes of her Dome sculptures. Foregoing color entirely, 3.3.5 Acrylic Shapes uses the variable dimensions of each piece to suggest relational interactions between the individual elements.
Using thirty-seven tons of donated dry ice, Chicago and her collaborators created two versions of Dry Ice Environment, also known as Disappearing Environments Part I and Part II. The first iteration included two stacked walls, which visitors could walk between, becoming cloaked in fog. For the second, pictured here, the team created several ziggurats that slowly dissolved into nothingness. Although they borrowed formal devices from minimalist sculpture, Chicago’s modular industrial blocks and imposing structures softened and dissipated, offering an ephemeral and enveloping sensory experience.
In two ads in Artforum magazine in 1970, including one announcing the adoption of her new name, Chicago used conceptual strategies taken up in the following years by a number of emerging feminist artists, such as Lynda Benglis and Hannah Wilke. Again adapting a nontraditional medium, Chicago turned the magazine advertising page into a site for an artwork and statement of purpose. The groundbreaking idea of repurposing mass-media spaces for art dissemination would profoundly influence a subsequent generation of artists.
The Rejection Quintet dealt with Chicago’s continuing frustration with trying to address female experience while seeking recognition within patriarchal society. Despite growing support from the women’s art community, which she was so instrumental in building, Chicago struggled to show her work, gain the respect of male colleagues, and overtly explore feminist content. Encouraged by her friend, the feminist art critic Lucy R. Lippard, Chicago produced the most emotionally and aesthetically raw of her vulvar images thus far, pairing anatomically explicit drawings with handwritten, diaristic accounts of rejection and self-acceptance.
From 1969 to 1974, Chicago presented Atmosphere events in locations across California and the Northwest, ranging from secluded woods and beachfronts to art museums and university campuses. Natural or constructed, the locales were instantly transformed and aestheticized by bursts of colored smoke triggered by the flares. Chicago saw this project as releasing the diaphanous colors of her sculptural Domes to soften and “feminize” the environment. The effect was further emphasized in later versions in which nude women, their bodies painted in intense hues, interacted with plumes of smoke.
Continuing to prioritize craftsmanship and materials after graduate school, Chicago enrolled (and was the only woman) in an auto-body-painting class. She saw the spray-gun acrylic technique as a way to fuse color and surface and make works that were part painting and part object. In Birth Hood, Chicago brought together the biomorphic imagery criticized by her professors as being too feminine with the masculine symbolism of the car hood. Her interest in mastering nontraditional mediums has continued throughout her career.
Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963–74
April 4–September 28, 2014
Before making her widely known and iconic feminist work of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond, Judy Chicago explored painting, sculpture, and environmental performance, often using innovative industrial techniques and materials, including auto body painting and pyrotechnics.
Chicago in L.A. surveys this less-familiar but significant early work, produced when Chicago lived in Los Angeles and was a participant in the Finish Fetish school, which responded to the rapid industrialization of the West Coast with its own brightly colored, high-gloss form of minimalism. The exhibition places the early work within the arc of Chicago’s broader production and continues the reappraisal of the artist’s importance as a pioneer in the California art scene. Chicago in L.A. also re-examines The Dinner Party as a work that emerged from decades of artistic experimentation, not only with materials, but with feminist community building.
This survey includes approximately sixty paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and videos, including documentation of performances, spanning 1963 to 1974. On view are important early sculptures, including Rainbow Picket (1964), which blend minimalist forms and bold color choices, and a range of vibrant paintings and sculptures made with sprayed acrylic lacquer, a material typically used for decorating cars.
An outdoor component of the exhibition, A Butterfly for Brooklyn, was presented in partnership with the Prospect Park Alliance on Saturday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., on the Long Meadow of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. On a monumental scale, this piece elaborated on the Atmospheres, a series of environmentally based works staged throughout California in the late 1960s that employed colored smoke and other pyrotechnics.
Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963–74 is organized by Catherine J. Morris, Sackler Family Curator, with Saisha Grayson, Assistant Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
This exhibition has been made possible by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation.