February 1, 2024

Judy Chicago, Christine de Pisan place setting from The Dinner Party, 1979, © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, New York

The 2024 Judy Chicago Art Education Award will be given to projects related to and/or inspired by the “City of Ladies,” which contextualizes my six-decade body of art by presenting it in relation to eighty other creators from a centuries-long, alternative, female-centered narrative that challenges the patriarchal canon that has traditionally been presented as a ‘universal’ art history. Projects can be based upon a visit to the “City of Ladies” exhibition (closing March 3, 2024) or an investigation of the New Museum brochure for the installation (available as a pdf) and amplified by primary research incorporating material from any of the archives that are part of the Judy Chicago Research Portal. The award is $5000, $2500 upon selection with the other half upon the successful completion of the project, which has to have some type of public presentation associated with it before the end of 2024. The award will be presented by Judy Chicago during an online ceremony at Through the Flower in Belen, New Mexico, sometime during the summer of 2024. 

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/UW, The dove, no. 2, 1915. Oil on canvas, 61 1/4 x 45 1/2 in (155.5 x 115.5 cm). Courtesy The Hilma af Klint Foundation

Although many things have changed since when I was a young artist in Los Angeles, which was singularly inhospitable to women, I still hear too many stories from young people about art history classes that continue to omit women, gender-queer and artists of color. Or if they are presented, it is rarely within the context of their own histories. Instead, they are appended to the patriarchal canon in ways that diminish their importance, obscure their specific histories or approach them without sufficient background information. For example, when the astounding 2018 exhibition by the Swedish artist, Hilma af Kilmt (1862-1944) appeared at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, many reviewers discussed her ‘spiritualism’ in a way that denied her agency as an artist. Clayton Press, writing in Forbes (10/18/2018), asserted that; “… it is… actually critical – to clarify that af Klimt was a mystic, if not a channel, who received and shared enlightenment that perhaps even she did not understand,” adding that she was merely a ‘vehicle’.

And according to Jennifer Krasinki in “Art Forum”, “her hand (author’s emphasis) found its true purpose; to make visible what the eye cannot see”. Odd for an artist to make images that her hand seems to have created by itself and that she could not “see” while she was forging them. Additionally, af Klimt’s decision to withhold her work from public view for two decades after her death seems not to have been explored in relation to the situation of women artists at the time she was working. To me, that seems like a subject worth investigating, especially given the amount of scholarship about the obstacles women artists have faced dating back to Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

(Left) Hildegarde’s Liber Divinorum Operum [The Book of Divine Works], illuminated version manuscript c.1220–30), Collection of Biblioteca Statale di Lucca on display in the City of Ladies. (Right) Judy Chicago, detail of the Hildegarde Runner, from the The Dinner Party, 1979.  Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Collection of the Brooklyn Museum. ©️ Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photos ©️ Donald Woodman/ARS, New York

More important, the reviews utterly failed to contextualize her work in a female-centered, spiritual tradition that dates back to Hildegarde von Bingen (1098-1179), whose visionary drawing provided the basis for the image on the back of her runner in The Dinner Party. At the age of 85, Hildegarde undertook a series of paintings that she called “the shades of the living light”, one of which is included in the “City of Ladies” where it takes its place in a sisterhood of such artists as Georgiana Houghton (1894-1184), Annie Besant (1847 – 1933) and more recently, Agnes Pelton (1881-1961) whose work was based on themes of mysticism, theosophy and informed by her own visions, which link her directly to Hildegarde. 

(Left) Annie Besant, page from Thought-Forms, 1905. Publisher: Theosophical Publishing Society (London), 9 3/4 x 6 3/4 in (24.8 x 17.1 cm). Private collection. © Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater. (Center) Agnes Pelton, Translation, 1931. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in (63.5 x 76.2 cm). Collection Fairfax Dorn and Marc Glimcher. Courtesy Pace. Photo: Peter Clough (Right) Georgiana Houghton, The Spiritual Crown of Annie Mary Howitt Watts, April 24, 1867. Watercolor and gouache laid on board with an ink inscription on reverse. 13 x 9 in (33 x 23 cm). Courtesy Vivienne Roberts

As the website of Simon & Schuster noted about Australian writer, Jennifer Higgie’s new book, “The Other Side; A Story of Women in Art and the Spirit World”; “…spiritualism, in various incarnations has influenced numerous men – including lauded modernist artists such as.. Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and Klee…without repercussions. The fact that so many radical female artists.. also drank deeply from the same spiritual well has been sorely neglected for too long.”

The “City of Ladies” is an attempt to demonstrate that the story of erasure that I set out to tell through The Dinner Party can be best understood by actually being able to view some of the incredible art, artifacts and creations that have been erased. It was both thrilling and heartbreaking to see work that I had carried in my heart and mind, that was the foundation of my career; and to discover artists that even I – with my vast knowledge of women’s cultural production – did not know. Since the show opened in October of last year, we have received dozens of posts and notes from people from all over the world who journeyed to see both my retrospective and the “City of Ladies”. But the most moving comment (for me) came from Elizabeth Theban, one of our staff members, all of whom went to New York to see the show; 

“While I learned about many women over the course of my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art history, it shocked me that so many important women and works were left out of my education. It is astounding that I never learned about Alice Guy-Blaché (who was the first filmmaker and produced over a thousand films), Augusta Savage (an early African-American sculptor), or other women like Maria Martins (a Brazilian sculptor and contemporary of Marcel Duchamp) or Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, who founded Rookwood Pottery, (which helped to introduce pottery into America in the 19th century). What society values gets preserved, leading to questions about just how much of women’s cultural history is still to be excavated or has been lost completely.”

Help change this situation by submitting a proposal based on the “City of Ladies” that contributes to a broad understanding about the importance of women’s cultural production across the centuries and around the world. For more information about the award criteria, please visit the Through the Flower website

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