March 15, 2022

Womanhouse catalog cover featuring Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, 1972
Designed by Sheila de Bretteville.

In 1969, when I was a young artist – barely thirty – I decided to make a radical change in my artmaking process which had, over the first decade of my professional practice, become ever more minimal as I struggled to be accepted in the entirely male-centered art scene of southern California. Because it was completely unacceptable for one’s work to hint at one’s gender (or race, class or sexual orientation), I had slowly erased almost all signs of my femaleness. At the same time, whenever I left my studio I was confronted by sexism which – in the late 1960s- couldn’t even be named. If I tried, I would be asked; “what are you, some kind of suffragette?”, which was definitely a disparaging term. This near-daily contradiction was making me angry but anger can fuel creativity which, in my case, it did.

I decided that I would try to go back in time and re-connect with who I was at UCLA graduate school, where – as a result of unending pressure and rejection – I had begun the process of eliminating any hint of my gender from my work. But I didn’t really know how, nor did I have any models for how this might be achieved. I didn’t even know any other women artists as I was the only one who was (barely) being taken seriously in the macho L.A. art scene. I thought that perhaps if I taught female art students who were just starting out and helped them to be themselves in their work, I might be able to re-connect with my own impulses. So I looked for a teaching job away from L.A. where I wouldn’t be subject to the art world and its attitudes.    

Judy Chicago with 10 Part Cylinders from the Sculpture of the Sixties exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA, 1967. © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of Through the Flower Archives

I was fortunate to be hired by Fresno State College (now the University of California, Fresno) and even luckier that the head of the art department agreed to let me establish an all-female art class, which would later be called the Feminist Art Program. However, I have to confess that along with a genuine desire to help young women become professional artists without having to do what I had done, i.e. hide my gender, I also wanted to figure out how to create a new kind of art which – like my program – came to be called Feminist Art. The first year of the women’s class was a wild success, so much so that I was invited to bring my program along with some of my students to Cal-Arts, the new art school in southern California where I would team-teach with Miriam Schapiro who was older than I and to whom I looked for support and guidance (which turned out to be a big mistake but that is another story).

Because the Cal-Arts building was not ready, we and our students met in each other’s living rooms. Out of that domestic environment and thanks to the art historian, Paula Harper (who Cal-Arts had hired to expand the slide library of women artists I had started in Fresno) a project was born titled Womanhouse, the first major feminist art installation, which opened to the public in January, 1972. During its month-long exhibition, Womanhouse was seen by over 10,000 viewers and, thanks to the film about the project by Johanna Demetrakas, people all over the world learned about it. Since that time, Womanhouse has inspired dozens of projects, both on-site and online. But you’d never know it from its ongoing absence from art history.

(Left) Judy Chicago, Cock and Cunt Play from Womanhouse, 1972, Performed by Faith Wilding (left) and Jan Lester (right); © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (Center) Womanhouse Invitation, 1972. (Right) Sandra Orgel, Linen Closet from Womanhouse, 1972. Photos courtesy of Though the Flower Archives housed at the Penn State University Archives.

Fast forward to 2022, the 50th anniversary of Womanhouse, which the board of Through the Flower (my small, non-profit arts organization now based in Belen, New Mexico, a short 30 miles south of Albuquerque) is celebrating with a triad of projects;

1. Wo/Manhouse 2022, a new participatory project in a donated 50’s style house in Belen, open to New Mexico artists across the gender spectrum. This project will be facilitated by Nancy Youdelman, one of my Fresno students, who participated in Womanhouse and is now a successful practicing artist. Applications are due March 18th for the house project and April 1st for performances that will supplement the installations For more information visit the Wo/Manhouse 2022 website or Through the Flower’s website.

(Left) Wo/Manhouse 2022 logo. (Right) Wo/Manhouse 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

2. An historic exhibition in the Through the Flower Art Space, a short distance from Wo/Manhouse, which will feature the Demetrakas film, along with historic images and a re-installation of my Menstruation Bathroom, probably one of the first installations on this subject, which is mostly absent from art history.

3. This year, the Judy Chicago Art Education Award Funded by Mary Ross Taylor (a certificate and $2500) will focus on original research about Womanhouse, its historic impact and importance as well as the new project, whose title has been expanded to Wo/Manhouse in order to accommodate contemporary definitions of gender. Because Womanhouse has been a little-studied area, Through the Flower decided to try and counter its historic erasure. Although there is little scholarship, there is a plethora of information about Womanhouse online and through the Judy Chicago Research Portal which joins together the archives of five major institutions, three of which have significant holdings of Womanhouse materials. The deadline for applications is July 15th, 2022 and more information is available via Through the Flower’s website.

An added attraction to Through the Flower’s Womanhouse celebration, Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe will sponsor “Women in the House”. Tonya Turner Carroll (who sits on the board of Through the Flower) has invited notable women artists across the spectrum of age and race to take over the rooms of its historic gallery. The exhibition opens on June 3rd with a talk about the Womanhouse projects (past and present) by Nancy Youdelman who will also participate in the show.

Nancy Youdelman, Hair Pillow, 1974, Mixed media, 15 x 12 x 2 in. Photo by Michael Karibian, courtesy of Nancy Youdelman.

I invite you to participate in these important, historic undertakings as participants, researchers or viewers. Our exhibitions will be open from June 18th to September 25th. Sometime during that period, we will hold a reception for the winner of this year’s Judy Chicago Art Education Award (either on-site or online). PLEASE JOIN US.

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