Artist Judy Chicago has had a long, successful career - influencing generations of artists with her thought-provoking installations, mixing of stereotypical male and female art styles and her outspoken feminist viewpoint on art.
But she has spent much of her career guiding the artists that would become her peers and those who would come after her as a respected, innovative teacher. In 2011, Chicago gifted Penn State University Park with the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection, a collection of her teaching materials from her groundbreaking work in the 1970s through her return to teaching in the late 1990s.
"My archive covers my teaching projects beginning in the early 1970s, when I developed the first feminist art program in the world along with the Feminist Art Program at Cal-Arts in southern California, which produced the historic 'Womanhouse' project," Chicago said in quotes provided by Penn State.
"[Penn State was] the perfect institution for this material because of its prominent stature in relation to art education. When my husband - photographer Donald Woodman - and I toured the Special Collections Library, where the archives are housed, we were thrilled and impressed by what the library was doing with the collection."
Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art is now sharing much of the collection, along with pieces donated and on loan, to document Chicago's extraordinary career in the exhibition "Surveying Judy Chicago: Five Decades," on view through May 11. The exhibition is being held in honor of Chicago's 75th birthday this year (July 20).
"We have never shown Chicago's work prior to this but recognized that this would be a great moment to celebrate her career, along with the gift of the archives," wrote Palmer curator Joyce Robinson in an email. "In honor of Judy Chicago's 75th birthday, and in celebration of the Penn State School of Visual Arts' relationship with this pioneering artist, educator, and author, the University is hosting a symposium, exhibitions, lectures, and other events highlighting Chicago's work throughout the spring of 2014."
Chicago is best known for her 1974 to 1979 art installation "The Dinner Party." The project is a large, triangular table (48-feet long on each side) with 39 elaborate place settings, each representing a different historical or mythological woman. Each place setting features an embroidered table runner featuring the woman's name and images or symbols of her accomplishments, along with a goblet, napkin, silverware and a plate. The china plate is either painted or sculpted with some design representing the woman. Many of the plates feature a butterfly- or flower-shaped sculpture symbolizing a vulva.
"Chicago is identified almost exclusively with one work, 'The Dinner Party, which is now housed at the Brooklyn Museum," Robinson wrote. "This piece is reproduced in survey texts and histories of 20th-century art and is one of the great monuments of feminist art."
Chicago herself was happy with the Palmer exhibit's representation of "The Dinner Party."
"In addition to providing glimpses of my art production over 50 years, the Palmer show also provides insights into 'The Dinner Party,' my most well known work, through the 39 plate drawings from the collection of Margaret and Dan Loeb and a number of test plates and studies from the collection of the Art Divas of Calgary, Canada, a group of women dedicated to acquiring and donating work by women artists to counter the lack of representation of women in our major museums," she said.
Chicago's association with Penn State began with her interactions with Dr. Karen Keifer-Boyd, professor of Art Education and Women's Studies at the School of Visual Arts at Penn State University Park.
"In the 1970s, I picked up her autobiography about her struggles as a woman artist," Keifer-Boyd said. "I read that the summer after I graduated [from college] and it put my struggles into perspective. It showed me that I wasn't alone. ...
"As a role model for many, she really is a founder of the feminist art movement. ... She broke through all kinds of art world barriers, in regards to who could be making art and what kind of art they could be making."
Keifer-Boyd met Chicago in 2002 and in 2009 helped the artist bring some of her teaching philosophies online. It was then that Keifer-Boyd asked what she was doing with her years of teaching materials. That initial question eventually led to the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection at Penn State. Keifer-Boyd serves as coordinator of the collection.
She curated the exhibit "Challenge Yourself: Judy Chicago's Studio Art Pedagogy," which will be on display at Penn State's Special Collections Library from March 24 through June 14. Keifer-Boyd said it was appropriate that the "Challenge Yourself" exhibit would run concurrently with the "Surveying Judy Chicago" exhibit.
"So on one side of the street is her art-making and on the other side of the street is about her teaching, and these things relate very strongly to each other," she said.
Penn State's celebration of Judy Chicago's birthday will culminate on April 5 and 6 with "Judy Chicago Symposium: Planting A Feminist Art Education Archive." The symposium, which will feature the artist as its keynote speaker, will have exhibitions, lectures and other events. For a full list of symposium events, visit judychicago.arted.psu.edu.
"I am really looking forward to the weekend of April 5 and 6, when receptions will be held for the exhibitions of 'Surveying Judy Chicago' and my art education archive, along with projects around the campus and a major symposium examining the state of university art education. The weekend promises to be eye-opening, empowering and inspiring to everyone who attends," Chicago said.
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.