Around the World: Artist Judy Chicago’s Favorite Things

Judy Chicago will present one of her fascinating “smoke sculptures” in June as part of the Toronto Art Biennale.

Donald Woodman

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Judy Chicago’s art is going up in smoke, and that’s exactly what she wants.

The pioneer of feminist art will present one of her fascinating “smoke sculptures” in June as part of the Toronto Art Biennale. A carefully choreographed “performance” of brightly colored vapors, the event A tribute to Toronto-will become Chicago’s first smoke sculpture created on a floating barge.

Long before she created dinnera seminal work from the 1970s now housed in the Brooklyn Museum, Chicago experimented with colored smoke, fireworks and dry ice in Southern California – its response to the “macho” Land Art movement of the time.

“I’ve been doing smoke sculptures since the late 60s, and there have been many,” said Chicago, 82. penta from the 7,000-square-foot New Mexico home and studio she shares with photographer Donald Woodman, her husband and frequent collaborator. “They covered World War III, the nuclear apocalypse and climate collapse. They celebrated women and goddesses cq? in. They softened the landscape and feminized the man-made environment. I did one in the middle of the Vietnam War, which made people think.

It turned out to be a banner year for Chicago, including a career retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the first of his six-decade career. The exhibition inspired another smoke sculpture event, Forever de Young, in Golden Gate Park. “It was joyful. There was pure color in the air. It was a beautiful aesthetic experience.

For its Toronto play, Chicago hopes that when viewers “stand there for 15 minutes staring at the water, with all the other emotions they’re going through, they’ll end up marveling at the beauty of the landscape and our planet, and a commitment to ensure that it is not destroyed.

Chicago recently shared some of her favorite things with penta.

My favorite place to create art is… my workshop. This is where I have spent most of my life. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in a place like this, you need to make sure you like it. It’s a big, white space with music and my cat, Tuxedo. Now if you asked me about the most incredible place I have ever created art, it would be the Dior project in Paris [working with Dior’s creative team, Chicago last year created a bag inspired by her 1973 work Let It All Hang Out].

On my studio playlist, you will hear…
Leonard Cohen. In 1982, when dinner was in Montreal, I met a woman who was his cousin. She promised to introduce us at the opening. I got sick. I didn’t care if I missed the opening. I worried about not meeting him.

When he died, I made a series of 12 porcelains called Cohanim for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. I used phrases from different songs.

My favorite Leonard Cohen song is… [1988’s] Everyone knows. During my Holocaust project, I played it endlessly. I can hear a Leonard Cohen song and remember exactly where I was. With [1969’s] bird on a wireI was in my studio in Pasadena in the 60s. With Eeveryone knowsit was my studio in Santa Fe in the 80s.

Right now, the books I’m reading include… I read about comfort women (from WWII). The information has only recently started to become available. It was difficult to get into English. Otherwise, I read the New York Times in the morning to see what’s going on with the war.

The artists I admire are… the artists of the past on whom I have modeled my entire career. I grew up looking at impressionist paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. I wanted to be part of the history of art represented there.

I don’t really like contemporary art, but there are artists that I like. Andrea Bowers has just had a vernissage at Jessica Silverman, the same gallery in San Francisco where I exhibit. I sent her flowers. I admire Sue Coe and her brave images of what we do to other creatures. I appreciate Nick Cave and Kathe Kollwitz. They are all artists who have something to say that makes sense.

My favorite museum is… well, there’s a lot that I don’t like. They are too big and overwhelming. I like small and original. I love the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art. I love the Brooklyn Museum, because The Dinner Party is there. I love the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto because I’m doing a talk there in June. And I love the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

My hidden talent is… I don’t have a lot, unlike my husband, who has a billion dollars. I can paint, write and speak publicly, and I love my cats. I make pictures of my cats. We have a whole memorial for our cats. These are paintings on porcelain and ceramics. All the cats will be together after we die because they go to the museum.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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