Judy Chicago: Revelations

Judy Chicago: Revelations
Judy Chicago, 2023 Photo © Donald Woodman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Judy Chicago: Revelations
23rd May, 2024 – 1st September, 2024
Serpentine North
West Carriage Drive
W2 2AR

Serpentine is honoured to present Revelations, an exhibition of trailblazing artist, author, educator, cultural historian and feminist Judy Chicago (b. 1939, Chicago, USA). On view at Serpentine North from 23 May to 1 September 2024, this is the artist’s largest solo presentation in a London institution.

Judy Chicago: Revelations
Judy Chicago, 2023
Photo © Donald Woodman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Chicago came to prominence in the late 1960s when she challenged the male-dominated landscape of the art world by making work that was boldly from a woman’s perspective. An artistic polymath, Chicago‘s work is defined by a commitment to craft and experimentation, either through her choice of subject matter or the method and materials she employs.

Throughout her six-decade career, Chicago has contested the absence and erasure of women in the Western cultural canon, developing a distinctive visual language that gives visibility to their experiences. To this aim, Chicago has produced both individual and collaborative projects that grappled with themes of birth and creation, the social construct of masculinity, her Jewish identity, notions of power and powerlessness, extinction, and expressed her longstanding concern for climate justice.

Judy Chicago: Revelations charts the full arc of Chicago’s career with a specific focus on drawing, highlighting rarely seen works. Several immersive, multi-media elements, including an AR app, a video recording booth, and other audio-visual components, set this show apart from previous surveys of Chicago’s work. With never-before-seen sketchbooks, films and slides, video interviews of participants from The Dinner Party (1974-79), audio recordings, and a guided tour of The Dinner Party by Chicago herself, this novel approach to exhibiting Chicago’s work makes the artist’s presence felt throughout the gallery.

Judy Chicago Wrestling with the Shadow for Her Life from Shadow Drawings, 1982 Prismacolor on rag paper 29 x 23 in. (73.66 x 58.42 cm) © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition takes its name from an unknown illuminated manuscript Chicago penned in the early 1970s which will be published for the first time in conjunction with the exhibition by Serpentine and Thames & Hudson. Titled Revelations, this visionary work is a radical retelling of human history recovering some of the stories of women that society sought to erase, and one that Chicago never imagined would be published in her lifetime. Audio excerpts from the book can be heard in each of the galleries through an accompanying audio guide, seamlessly creating a link between visual art and written word that has occupied the artist’s practice since the 1970s.

Judy Chicago says: Revelations, both the exhibition and book, expresses my lifelong commitment to gender equality and my deeply held belief that people must come together to change the patriarchal paradigm, which-at this point in history-has become lethal to all creatures, human and nonhuman, as well as to the planet.”

Organised thematically and inspired by the chapters of the manuscript as its framework, the exhibition opens with In the Beginning (1982) which measures a staggering nine metres in length. Executed in Chicago’s signature Prismacolor pencils, the work reimagines the Genesis creation myth from a female perspective. As a benchmark representation of Chicago’s foundational philosophy, In the Beginning attempts to dismantle patriarchal structures but also draws on the ways in which feminism intersects with ecology, making this the perfect work to open both the exhibition and accompanying manuscript, which also serves as the exhibition’s catalogue.

In the mid-196os, Chicago developed a significant body of abstract and minimalist drawings, paintings and sculptures that explored colour and form. Revelations will bring together a focused selection of works on paper from this period.

Judy Chicago And God Created Life (detail), 2023 Prismacolor on paper 30 x 22.25 in. (76.2 x 56.52 cm) © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY Courtesy of the artist

By the late 1960s and 1970s, Chicago began to expand on what she termed ‘central-core’ imagery whilst also developing her expertise in the male-dominated discipline of pyrotechnics. Works such as The Great Ladies Transforming Themselves into Butterflies (1973) and Peeling Back (1974) combine text and image and explicitly reflect on her experience of being “a woman, with a woman’s body and a woman’s point of view.”

An immersive video installation of footage from Chicago’s celebrated site-specific performances, Atmospheres (1968-74), that combined coloured smokes and fireworks will be presented in one of the historic powder rooms of Serpentine North. As one of several digital and online experiences presented in the exhibition, visitors will also be encouraged to interact with Rainbow AR (2020), a free downloadable app commissioned by LAS Art Foundation, Berlin, Germany, which allows visitors to create their own smoke pieces.

Judy Chicago, Woman Creating Fire from Women and Smoke, 1971-1972; Remastered in 2016. Original Total Running Time: 25:31. Edited to 14:45 by Salon 94, NY 2017
© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives Courtesy of the artist

One gallery draws on the significance of Chicago’s monumental installation The Dinner Party that celebrates and symbolises the heritage and achievements of 1038 women. Here, rarely seen drawings, studies and sketchbooks reveal the working process and components that led to this installation, now permanently housed at Brooklyn Museum, NY. Interviews with luminaries such as Maria Grazia Chiuri, Kevin Kwan, Roxane Gay and Massimiliano Gioni contextualise the relevance of The Dinner Party today.

Also featured in the exhibition is Chicago’s series, the Birth Project (1980-85), for which the artist studied creation myths from numerous cultures to chart history’s transition from matriarchal to patriarchal societies. Struck by the lack of imagery related to the subject of birth in Western art, she collaborated with over 150 needleworkers who translated her drawings, paintings and designs into tapestries, petit points, crochets and more. Central to these works is the image of the Goddess figure which has been reworked across Chicago’s career to present the idea of ‘the divine’ being female.

Whilst still engaged with Birth Project, Chicago explored the cultural construction of gender and masculinity. Drawing on her continued commitment to challenging the patriarchal structures that govern society, Prismacolor studies and paintings on Belgian linen covered cavasses from PowerPlay (1982-87) highlight how the artist appropriated and reversed the male gaze. In a new drawing made especially for the manuscript, And God Created Life (2023) Chicago seeks to challenge the conception of God as male and instead presents a figure that sits beyond the racial and binary gender spectrum.

The exhibition also highlights Chicago’s enthusiastic interest in the relationship between ecological justice and feminism. Among the works presented are a selection of mixed media drawings from the series Thinking About Trees (1993-96) as well as studies from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2015-16) that reflect on the plight of animals.

Stranded (2013), depicting a polar bear, was the subject of #CreateArtforEarth, an ongoing global campaign that brought together Chicago with the artist Swoon, Jane Fonda and her environmental initiative Fire Drill Friday. Alongside other partners, this project encouraged individuals to submit art or messages that respond to the climate crisis and inspire action for protecting our planet.

For Revelations, visitors will be invited to continue contributing to the global campaign. This is one of three ways that people worldwide can collaborate with the artist to create change via digital projects including the most recently conceived participatory project in the exhibition, What If Women Ruled the World? (2022).What if Women Ruled the World? was developed in close collaboration with Pussy Riot founding member Nadya Tolokonnikova, and DMINTI.

Judy Chicago In the Beginning from Birth Project (detail), 1982 Prismacolor on paper 65 x 389 in. (165.1 x 988.06 cm) © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY Courtesy of the artist

The project was first imagined in 1977 and realised for Dior’s Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture show at the invitation of the fashion house’s first female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. Visitors will be invited to enter a participatory booth to provide a video response to a series of questions.

Each response will become part of a growing international archive that is underpinned by a proof of participation token powered by Tezos, the open source project and a scalable, energy efficient, public blockchain chosen by artists across the world for their creative projects. This is the latest project in the multi-year partnership between the Tezos Foundation and Serpentine which celebrates the Serpentine Arts Technologies Team’s endeavors to foster artist-led blockchain projects and educate the public, alongside the Tezos ecosystem’s dedication to innovation and creativity in the arts and culture sector.

Revelations is curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director; and Chris Bayley, Associate Exhibitions Curator; with Liz Stumpf, Assistant Exhibitions Curator; and produced by Halime Ozdemir-Larusso, Production Manager.

Judy Chicago: Revelations opens on the 23rd of May, 2024 until the 1st of September, 2024 at Serpentine North

©2024 Serpentine