June 17, 2022

Judy Chicago at the Art Gallery of Ontario display of The Dinner Party Test Plates, 2022.
Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Wow! is all I can say about the last few weeks – which are a BLUR. We flew to Toronto on May 30th and during the week we were there, we spent time at the waterfront looking at the light at the end of the day to determine the start time for A Tribute to Toronto and checking out the dock where the barge was parked while also doing some final work on the lights. On Wednesday, we went to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the installation of a series of Dinner Party test plates that had been donated to the museum by a women’s group called the ARTdivas. That evening, there was a sold-out public program where I was in conversation with Candice Hopkins, curator of the Toronto Biennale, which was moderated by AGO curator, Xiaoyu Weng. The next night brought an opening of my show, The Natural World, at the Daniel Faria Gallery followed by a private dinner at the home of eccentric artist, Charles Pachter. On Saturday, June 4th, after a short and enlightening tour of the Biennale by Candice (many of the artists were unknown to us), A Tribute to Toronto was presented to a cheering audience of almost 14,000 people at Sugar Beach along with another 150,000 folks around the world via multiple social media platforms. We finally flew home on June 6th and almost immediately plunged into all the preparations for the opening weekend (June 17-19) of the 50th anniversary celebration of Womanhouse.

(Left) Judy Chicago and Chris Souza at A Tribute to Toronto, 2022. (Right) Judy Chicago hugs Chris Souza after A Tribute to Toronto, 2022. Photos © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Fortunately, Through the Flower board president, Diane Gelon, flew in from London the next day. I want to remind my readers that Diane and I have been working together since 1975 when she agreed to help with my research for the Heritage Floor of The Dinner Party. Although I did most of the research myself for the women represented on the table, I wanted to assemble an archive of 3,000 women from which we would select the 999 names that appear on the floor. “Easy” said Diane (in what would exemplify that well-known saying; “famous last words”), “It should take about three weeks.” Diane went on to become first, the administrator of The Dinner Party project and then, the organizer of its national and international exhibition tour. Unlike me, Diane is the mistress of detail as is my wonderful husband, photographer Donald Woodman and there were details galore in bringing Wo/Manhouse2022 to fruition.

I don’t think any of us truly understood the magnitude of this project when Megan Malcom-Morgan (Executive Director of TTF) first suggested doing a 50th anniversary celebration of Womanhouse, the groundbreaking installation that took place at an old mansion in Los Angeles as part of the Cal-Arts Feminist Art Program. I have often stated that my relationship to most of the projects in which I have become involved is “Wait for me!”, as they generally take on a life of their own. It’s a good thing that Megan has energy to spare. First she and her husband, former Belen mayor, Jerah Cordova offered a near perfect 1950s house as a site for the new project. Then, she created an application process which we sent all over the state, having decided that this would be a New Mexico based project, in part because local and regional artists don’t always have significant opportunities.

Through the Flower put out a call for artists and received ninety applications which reinforced our idea of the importance of our local focus. A jury selected the final artists who ranged in both age and experience. Even before the artists were chosen Megan organized a group of local, volunteer coordinators who began meeting last November 2021, to begin planning the project. We also invited the artist Nancy Youdelman to be the artist/facilitator, the role I had played (with Miriam Schapiro) in the original Womanhouse. She seemed appropriate because she had been my student in Fresno (in the first Feminist Art Program), followed me to Cal Arts and participated in Womanhouse. She went on to have a successful career as an artist and educator, building on my pedagogical principles which emphasize that every voice is important.

Somewhere along the way, the volunteer coordinators turned into artist liaisons, helping the 19 participants navigate the many challenges involved in developing an ambitious work of art, and then helping to clean and prepare for the opening weekend. In addition to TTF’s staff (Soren June, Ginger Mercer and the incredible “Jill of All Trades”, Lena Malcom, who also happens to be Megan’s mother), Donald’s and my entire staff became involved: Megan Schultz, our multi-talented studio manager; Karl Hutchins, our warehouse manager who happens to have many building and installation skills; Elizabeth Theban, Megan’s assistant; and Apolo Gomez, our photo assistant who also is one of the Wo/Manhouse 2022 participants. In the middle of working on his installation, he had a photo show in Santa Fe and came to Toronto with us, as did Megan, who worked on the “Smoke Sculpture” while providing essential support to me and Donald.

(Left) Judy Chicago painting menstrual products for the re-installation of Menstruation Bathroom, 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY (Middle) Judy Chicago installing Menstruation Bathroom at the Through the Flower Art Space, 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY (Right) Judy Chicago, Menstruation Bathroom from Womanhouse, 1972, mixed media. © Judy Chicago, Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives housed at the Penn State University Archives

Together with Jerah, Megan (or 3M as we call her to distinguish her from “our” Megan) and some of the coordinators (many of whom were also participating in the Performance Workshop), everyone worked non-stop all month; not so easy for an 82 year old woman like me. Some may ask, why would I take on such a big task at my age and right after the Toronto piece. I have to admit that I didn’t really think it through; it just seemed like a good idea when 3M suggested it, especially after she and Jerah volunteered a perfect “1950s” style house that they owned – and was sitting empty. Then we decided that we HAD to do an historic exhibition in the TTF Art Space to contextualize the new project. And it seemed obvious that I should re-install the Menstruation Bathroom partly because it had caused such a stir. I wanted to see if an image of menstruation was as shocking today as it had been earlier.

I absolutely cannot remember when I first came up with the bright idea of doing a new Performance Workshop but facilitating it has occupied me for several months. The performances at Womanhouse had been part of the historic impact of the installation so we thought we should commemorate those by restaging a few of them, particularly Lea’s Room (based on a famous Colette novel). As Nancy Youdelman – who was one of the original performers – would be here to facilitate Wo/Manhouse 2022, we decided to re-stage an updated version of it. In a new monologue, she discusses the fact that when she and Karen LeCocq had first performed the piece, they were young and beautiful. Her text examines her feelings about revisiting the play from the point of view of an aging woman. An added bonus is that Karen decided to come for the opening and perform with Nancy.

(Left) Nancy Youdelman rehearses Aging (A Re-envisioning of Lea’s Room) for Wo/Manhouse 2022. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY (Middle) Karen LeCocq and Nancy Youdelman, Lea’s Room from Collette’s Cherie from Womanhouse, 1972. Performed by Karen LeCocq. Photo Courtesy of Though the Flower Archives housed at Penn State University Archives. (Right) Sarah Heyward rehearses Scrubbing & Ironing. Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

You might wonder what the differences are between the original Womanhouse and Wo/Manhouse 2022. First, the 1970s project included only white women. In contrast, the contemporary version involves multiple voices including artists of color along with men working in a feminist environment as well as trans and non-binary artists. Second, some of the subject matter is new, for instance, an exploration of dual and sometimes conflicting identities (in this case, Asian and American), a “Transition” bathroom demonstrating exactly what is involved in ‘transitioning’ from one gender to another, and a kitchen that puts forth the idea that motherhood is not always as fulfilling as it has been made out to be along with the idea that one can survive and thrive despite childhood sexual abuse (1970s feminism focused more on women’s victimization).

By the opening weekend, there were almost 50 people involved in bringing the project to fruition, almost all of whom were volunteers. I hope the end results will be worth it, not only the 50 year celebration of Womanhouse but more importantly, a demonstration of the need for understandable content in art at a time when art’s worth is measured in money rather than meaning and there is too much work that involves the re-working of old ideas and/or the creation of trivial visual objects. Moreover, given the ongoing historical impact of Womanhouse (which – no surprise – has not been acknowledged by the art world), it seemed really important to commemorate it, bring it into a contemporary context by including a recognition of the expansion of our concept of gender and also, lay the groundwork for research and scholarship about it.

(Left) Rosemary Carroll rehearses Hairy Testimony for Wo/Manhouse 2022. (Right) Chris Riedel performs A Letter to My Dad at the weekly performance meeting.

Jen Pak works on her installation 그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms) inside Wo/Manhouse 2022. Photos © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

We are doing that by focusing this year’s Judy Chicago Art Education Award on the Womanhouse projects, which we hope will inspire scholars to visit Belen between now and October 9th and/or do research about it on the Judy Chicago Research Portal. To facilitate this, we have moved the application deadline to September 15, 2022. For more information, visit Through the Flower’s website ( Given the ongoing lack of recognition of the importance of the original Womanhouse, I am concerned that both projects will be undervalued or altogether erased unless we take into our own hands the historicizing of its importance. An example of this lack of recognition is the fact that for many years, Cal Arts did not include any information about Womanhouse despite the fact that they sponsored it. In fact, they actually tried to throw away the archives of the Feminist Art Program which were (fortunately) retrieved by students in the 1990s who were suffering the same types of discrimination that I set up my educational programs to counter.

We need to protect our histories and cultural production. One way this is being done is that Dr. Karen Keifer-Boyd, an art education professor at Penn State who was pivotal in bringing my art ed archive to the university, is planning to document the new project and create an AR experience that will become part of Penn State’s digital archive. I want to conclude by inviting my readers to apply for the JC Art Ed Award and by so doing, become part of the long effort by dozens of supporters to assure that my long struggle to highlight women’s achievements will never be forgotten.

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