Just In: Judy Chicago sculpture
Cited as one the most important figures in the genesis of feminist art, Judy Chicago has built a complex body of work that examines the gendering of both artistic and physical spaces. Spotlighting her vast contribution to the cultural elevation of female narratives however must not eclipse recognition of Chicago’s significant role in the canonical movements of her moment. Dark Red, Blue, Green Domes (Small) (1968), which LAMA is proud to present in the October 20, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction, provides a critical demonstration of Chicago’s participation in the boldest visual discourses coming out of the West Coast in the 1960s.
Prior to 1973 when she developed her “core” feminine imagery, Chicago rigorously examined the limits of color. Operating within strict geometric forms and patterns, the artist used color as an agent for scrutinizing the nature of perception. In 1964, Chicago earned her MFA in painting and sculpture from UCLA. During her time as a student, the artist had shown an early interest in “biomorphic and sexually suggestive forms,” but was met with strong objections by the program’s faculty to both overtly feminine and potentially erotic representations. Upon graduating and embedding herself in the Los Angeles exhibition circuit, Chicago faced a culture dominated my macho practices and personalities. In response, she temporarily muffled any impulse to depict personal narrative within her work and set her sights on building a reputation as an “ambitious, serious artist” in order to “beat the guys at their own game.” She partially achieved this when her monumental work, Rainbow Pickett (1965), was included in the 1966 exhibition “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum in New York, and was lauded by art critic Clement Greenberg as one of the best pieces in the show.
Following her interest in minimalism, Chicago turned her attention to the Finish Fetish style that had developed in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Described as a “Pop-industrial genre,” Finish Fetish was inspired by Southern California’s car culture. Emulating the elusive slickness of surfboards, motorcycles, and hot rods, Finish Fetish artists explored the characteristics of light and color through the use of plastics, lacquers, and auto body materials. The style undoubtedly brought with it the socialized masculine overtones of the everyday objects that inspired it. For many outsiders, the trend symbolized all of the worst stereotypes about Los Angeles culture, such as artificiality and transience. It was in this creative setting that Chicago began producing her Dome series to which Dark Red, Blue, Green Domes (Small) belongs. These geometric forms, made from acrylic glass and sprayed acrylic lacquer, allowed Chicago to give color itself a sculptural presence.
However, despite her attempts to produce works that she perceived as gender neutral, or at least only a subtle nod to the female form, a female colleague immediately and unflatteringly pegged it as such. But rather than doubling down on creating masculine art, Chicago embraced the multiple interpretations of her art, and gradually transitioned into producing explicitly feminist art.
Johnson, Ken. “The Breakfast That Preceded ‘The Dinner Party.’” The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2014, p. 30.
“Early Work/Minimal (1965-73).” Judy Chicago, www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-workminimal/ew-artwork/.
Martinique, Elena. “8 Early Works by Judy Chicago, Created During the Cool Years of Los Angeles.” Widewalls, 15 July 2018, www.widewalls.ch/judy-chicago-early-works-villa-arson/.
Wilson, William. “ART REVIEW: A Study in Plastic in ‘Finish Fetish’ : The Well-Intentioned Exhibition at USC’s Fisher Gallery Harkens Back to L.A.’s ‘Feel Good’ Period but Appears Superficial.” Los Angeles Times, 22 Mar. 1991.
Lucie-Smith, Edward. Judy Chicago: An American Vision. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2000.
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