Judy Chicago (with works by Tracey Emin, Helen Chadwick & Louise Bourgeois), Ben Uri: The London Jewish Museum of Art, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Monday 19 November 2012
“You are here to serve your masters.” This is a line from the S&M classic Story of O (1954), a tale about a career woman who succumbs to sexual slavery in a secluded château at the behest of her lover, René.
American artist Judy Chicago has reprinted a section of the text beneath a photograph of a gun pointed directly at the naked backside of a woman on all fours. The image is called Love Story (1971). Following the Fifty Shades phenomenon this year, it appears timely.
While Chicago’s artistic descendants, such as Tracey Emin, have adopted a more equivocal approach to feminism, this compact survey of her work is a reminder of the debt we owe to the women’s movement of the 1970s. The task of challenging submissive representations of women remains urgent.
Chicago was born into a progressive Jewish family in 1939. She changed her surname to Chicago - her birthplace - in 1970 in a bid to rid herself of male domination. She is best known for The Dinner Party (1979), a spectacular homage to 1,038 women in history, now permanently housed at The Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Ben Uri Museum focuses on Chicago’s other projects, notably documentations of Womanhouse, a derelict Hollywood mansion that she helped to transform into a centre for feminist art in 1972. Ablutions was a performance piece that involved women covering themselves in cow’s blood, eggs, and clay, to a soundtrack of rape testimonies.
Women and Smoke (1972) points to a kind of feminist creation myth, tinged with Californian hippydom. The photographs show more naked women, painted green, and sitting in the desert surrounded by jets of brilliantly coloured smoke. It is not clear whether they are expecting rescue or starting a brand new society without men; the latter seems more likely.
The inclusion of works by Helen Chadwick, Louise Bourgeois, and Emin, highlights the thematic continuities between different generations of female artists. But while Chicago stressed the personal as political – intimate revelation as a route to broader understanding – Emin’s wounded self-explorations appear more along the lines of the personal as personal.
Chicago’s signature style of lapping, graphic, psychedelic vulvas belongs to its time; her butterflies as symbols of female liberation have long been hijacked by self-help culture. But her contribution remains significant; this kind of art should not be seen as embarrassingly committed, but a resource that we can learn from.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 2 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Canadian woman suing police who locked her in van with sex offender who then raped her
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Hard line on immigration could cost Tories the election