Art world big-wigs, deep-pocketed donors and collectors made the scene on August 26 at the de Young Museum, where Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Director Thomas P. Campbell joined artist Judy Chicago to unveil Judy Chicago: A Retrospective.
Draped in a psychedelic print dress with her colorful, self-designed Lady Dior Bag collaboration on the crook of her arm, Chicago — a petite 82-year-old whose curly white coiffure is framed with hot purple streaks — resembles a soulful, yet wise-cracking, rock ’n’ roll grandmother. Though she’s been practicing her craft since the mid-’60s, this is Chicago’s first-ever retrospective.
Examining the totality of her career, Campbell noted, many only know Chicago as the creator of The Dinner Party, a prodigious installation honoring women’s history and accomplishments throughout the ages. Upon its 1979 debut at SFMOMA, some viewers were shocked by her porcelain plates, cast in the shape of female genitalia — and the mostly male art critics penned scathing reviews.
“This retrospective is a long overdue homage to Judy. And I’m delighted to introduce our audiences to her other groundbreaking series such as the Birth Project, Holocaust Project and her early minimal work,” toasted Campbell. “While The Dinner Party is a monumental achievement, it is only the tip of the iceberg.”
In conversation with Claudia Schmuckli, FAMSF Curator of Contemporary Art, Chicago praised Schmuckli’s installation of the 125- piece show — commencing with Chicago’s latest works, then rewinding back in time to her earliest.
“The way you installed this show, visitors have no choice but to confront all my subject matter that makes them uncomfortable,” she said with a chuckle. “If the show was presented chronologically, some viewers might never make it to the end.”
Throughout her career, Chicago has been heralded, hounded and marginalized. Speaking to Schmuckli, she delightfully impersonated the intensity some viewers may experience moving through the layers of her retrospective:
“OMG, the end! OMG, death! OMG: Now I’m going to have to think about what we’re doing to other creatures. Then I have to wonder: Can glass truly be art? Next I must confront that, in many disciplines. the Holocaust is considered the major philosophical dilemma of the 20th century! But do I really have to think about that? The construct of masculinity series? Well, we know with queer theory and gender theory, there’s some movement around that because of the #MeToo movement. Oh, the Birth Project: Wow, it’s nice she celebrated birth. The Dinner Party? I may not like the imagery but, okay, it’s an established art history reality. We’re at the end, the early work! OMG, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.”