April 14, 2022

Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman at the Brooklyn Artists Ball, 2022.

On Tuesday, April 12th, I attended the Brooklyn Ball to celebrate Maria Grazia Chiuri, who was honored. It was my great pleasure to introduce her. Below are my remarks from that night.

Brooklyn Artists Ball April 12, 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY.

“I am truly honored to be here to recognize Maria Grazia Chiuri this evening. But I must tell you, 3 years ago when she named me as one of her 10 biggest influences in a German magazine that was profiling her, I was really surprised. Other than viewing high fashion as oppressive to women, my only relationship with it was the result of the late designer Holly Harp sending me fancy clothes to wear to The Dinner Party openings. What I learned from her was that if you put on a beautiful garment, it makes you feel like a million bucks.

However, Maria Grazia’s inclusion of me – and then, her asking me to collaborate – started a long journey, one that involved research about her, then an investigation of the history of fashion and of course, feminist critiques. When she brought me and my husband, photographer Donald Woodman, to Paris to see our first couture show, I was truly overwhelmed. As we sat in the front row at the Dior headquarters, I began to wonder if art could have any real place amidst the gorgeous clothes, the glamour, the celebrities, the blaring music and of course, the ubiquitous paparazzi.

I learned and was impressed that Maria Grazia was a self-proclaimed feminist who had invited numerous women artists to work with her and also, for the first time, brought in female photographers. However, from my vantage point, the art was often a background to the display of her collections. Could art be more than that and could it transform the oppressive nature of male designers using the female body primarily as a hanger? Gradually, I came to understand that couture in the fashion world is the same as blue-chip art in my world – it creates taste, it creates interest, it creates opinion.

That interested me.

Judy Chicago and Maria Grazia Chiuri at the Brooklyn Artists Ball, 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY.

Maria Grazia has said many times that fashion is about the body, and of course, early feminist art was all about challenging social and cultural images of the female body. Our worlds were different, but- as I learned – our values were startlingly similar.

I’ll never forget watching the rehearsals for the Dior show in Paris and hearing the models say, “My God, these clothes are comfortable.” There were no grotesque high heels that made their ankles wobble. Maria Grazia’s shoes were elegant, gorgeous, and flat. Her work was challenging the whole history of male dominated couture.

View of the Goddess structure: the site of Dior’s Spring/Summer haute couture show. Photo courtesy of Dior

Somewhat nervously, I submitted a proposal called The Female Divine, a monumental Goddess Figure to be erected in the garden behind the Rodin Museum where the couture show was to be held because the Dior building was undergoing renovations (its celebration of the masculine would not go unrefuted – at least for a few weeks). It was the first time in my life someone came back to me with a bigger concept than I had imagined because – as I came to realize – everything that Dior does is immense.

Maria Grazia wanted me to design complicated banners, far more complicated than my original designs. Much to my delight, she had them fabricated by a group of female students from a nonprofit organization in Mumbai that teaches women craft-based skills that have historically been practiced by men. Thus our collaboration reached from Belen, New Mexico, the small town where Donald and I live, to Paris to India. Given my lifelong efforts to empower women, how perfect was that? One could say that together, we brought feminist values around the world.

Under Maria Grazia’s leadership, Dior is doing better than it’s ever done. That is kind of like saying that a woman artist’s work sold at auction for more than Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons. It’s not just that Maria Grazia has demonstrated a feminist vision; it’s that she has demonstrated that a feminist vision can be viable — financially, culturally, and historically.

(Left) The Chanakya School of Craft working on the banners for The Female Divine; (Right) Dior Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture show inside The Female Divine. Photos courtesy of Dior.

It’s not unlike what’s happening here at the Brooklyn Museum. Under Anne Pasternak’s leadership, the museum isn’t just about showing art from African American artists or female artists of any color. It is about context. The Brooklyn Museum is changing the story, addressing the erasure of too many culture’s valuable production. And that is why honoring Maria Grazia Chiuri here tonight is so fitting.

Maria Grazia, working with you provided me with the greatest creative opportunity of my life and a global platform for my art and ideas. Dior sent us the press book for The Female Divine; it was 1,000 pages long, which demonstrates the reach of your creative influence. For your unparalleled work to make fashion a vehicle of empowerment for women rather than a symbol of oppression and your generous inclusion of other creative women, it is my great honor to recognize you on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum, an institution that holds great meaning for both of us.”

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