Judy Chicago on her radical feminist art project, Womanhouse
In 1972, luminary of the world of art Judy Chicago and his students took over an abandoned house and turned it into the first facility exclusively centered on women. Jhis exhibition, women’s house, became a sensation, attracting thousands of visitors over its month-long run. “Since that time, he has stimulated Woman’s house projects around the world,” says the acclaimed artist. “I joked that like many Judy Chicago projects, it took on a life of its own. It gallops with me after saying, ‘Wait for me, wait for me!’
Speaking on Zoom from her adopted hometown of Belen, New Mexico, Chicago reflects on the inaugural exhibit: “I started the first feminist art program in Fresno which was, at the It was a fairly provincial semi-rural community at the time, and this gave many young women the opportunity to enter a world they would never have been able to enter without the feminist art program. began when the California Institute of the Arts invited her to expand the program: “Cal Arts was going to provide us with a large studio, but the new building wasn’t ready so we started meeting in people’s living rooms. At one point, art historian Paul Harper suggested the idea of doing a house project because of the historical association of women in the house.We all loved that.
Supervised by the artist, her students created a unique collaborative exhibition examining issues related to issues of domesticity, gender, power dynamics, abuse, gender roles, parenthood, daily rituals, space private, etc Each room has been transformed into an installation and the living room has become a performance space.
When it comes to her own life, Chicago is unequivocal about the demands of domestic life and her own decisions about the demands of family versus work. “I made a very clear choice early in my career which, based on my research into women’s history – including that of Virginia Woolf A room of one’s own — and discovered that most female artists who had successful careers didn’t have children,” she explains. “I was very lucky not to have what some women describe as a burning desire to have a child, so it wasn’t, for me, a huge choice. I couldn’t have had the career that I had if I had children. There is simply no question.
In 2001, the next iteration of Woman’s house took place in Kentucky, where the idea evolved to include works by male artists. “Since the first Woman’s house, there were 50 years of art by women exploring all those issues related to home, motherhood and domestic life. But it was very surprising to us that, in the At home project, the men’s work was the most interesting…because it was new. And that’s one of the reasons, besides changing definitions of genre, why we decided to invite artists from all genres. Because we realized that men also lived in houses, yet there was very little art by them about it.
She recalls a particularly compelling work by three young male students on this occasion called “The Pornography Closet”. “They each had very different views on pornography and so they basically created a closet – which is already symbolic – where they could voice their disagreements,” she explains. “One of them was totally against pornography. One of them, interestingly, came from a very religious home and, for him, pornography acted like a sex manual. Then there was another closet – the forbidden closet – in which another student put all the things that were forbidden to him as a man. It was totally fascinating.
Today, 50 years after its conception, Woman’s house come back. This time the project takes place in New Mexico through the flower art space in Belen. With Megan Malcolm Morgan, the gallery’s executive director, Chicago intends to further broaden the scope of representation by including a wider range of artists from all genres. She tells us: “IIt will be very interesting to find out what male and trans students are doing.
Malcolm-Morgan joins our conversation to add: “50 years ago we looked at the domestic space from a different angle because it was really the domain of women. 50 years later, that’s not really the case anymore… sometimes it’s more based on socio-economics and power dynamics and relations. So, for example, we have men who are stay-at-home dads, or we have same-sex couples who face the same kind of domestic issues at home that women had to deal with 50 years ago.
“Like many Judy Chicago projects, it took on a life of its own” – Judy Chicago
“We are very excited. And, as I keep saying, it took on a life of its own,” enthuses Chicago. “We received 90 proposals for 14 rooms from across the state of New Mexico. There are two sections – the transformation of an absolutely perfect 1950s house with shag carpets and floral wallpaper, and a historical display in Through the Flower. In addition, there is an exhibition in Santa Fe, at Turner Carroll Gallery called women at home… there will be several artists, including the host, Nancy Youdelman who will participate. And, in the spirit of the original Womanhouse, and the fact that a number of artists have submitted work that could be translated into performances, we’re also going to have performances, both historic and new. So, for example, we will put Cock and pussy [the subversive play by Chicago, first performed at Womanhouse, 1972] but with men, which should be a lot of fun, right? »
Malcolm-Morgan clarifies: “These things still need to be dealt with. Because sometimes it’s more than just your sex, isn’t it? It’s about other structures…families, what are the parenting issues, who does the housework, what kind of abuse is there? It’s about really diving into the space of the house. She reflects on the transformations that the concept of domestic space has undergone as a result of the pandemic. “I think with COVID everyone has been sent home. So now home is so important because it’s not just a place where you live, it’s a place where you work, it’s a place where you go to school, it’s a place where you teach… So I think those constraints really make this project important, because it’s relevant right now.
Take a look at the gallery above for an overview of Womanhouse projects over the years.
Wo/Manhouse opens June 18, 2022. See exhibition website for tickets and lineup