Judy Chicago, Live and in Person

he first time I saw Judy Chicago live and in person was in a bathroom at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She looked slightly stricken, as if she hoped I didn’t recognize her and would not pull out my phone to take a photo while she washed her hands.

I pretended not to recognize her.

Now I live in Albuquerque and have time to explore all that the city has to offer, and one Thursday night what the city had to offer was an interview with Judy Chicago.

George Pearl Hall

eorge Pearl Hall at the University of New Mexico is conveniently located across the street from Frontier Restaurant, a landmark diner with a menu that features New Mexican cuisine with a few standard diner items (like a grilled cheese sandwich for $2.75) thrown in for good measure.

It was there that my husband and I grabbed a bite to eat and reflected on our good fortune to get free tickets to see Judy Chicago interviewed.

It isn’t everywhere that you can hear an internationally acclaimed artist interviewed about her career with the only cost being the price of parking, but then, Albuquerque isn’t everywhere.

As we neared the entrance of the lecture hall, I spied Judy Chicago. As had been true of the first time I encountered her, she was arresting — her very person being an extension of her artwork. This time, however, instead of the more neutral black she had favored the first time I saw her, her hair was purple and coordinated with the outfit she was wearing.

That’s the woman I saw in the bathroom! I said, nodding my head toward Judy Chicago.

And with that, we headed into the auditorium where the interview would be conducted.

We find our seats

The George Pearl Hall is small enough that there aren’t any bad seats, but we arrived early enough that we were able to get an exceptionally good view of the artist:

Judy Chicago at George Pearl Hall in June of 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Judy Chicago at George Pearl Hall in June of 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Judy Chicago at George Pearl Hall

In hearing Judy Chicago speak, one gets the sense that she brooks no nonsense, but as you learn the story of her life, you understand that there was (and is) simply too much work to be done, and Judy Chicago has spent her life doing the work she believes to be important — namely securing a place in history for the women who have contributed so much to that history. Judy Chicago is also has an unparalleled sense of exactitude and generosity of spirit, that you don’t often see in one person.

What I learned

Before Judy Chicago was Judy Chicago, she was Judith Sylvia Cohen, a three-year-old girl who liked to draw. Then she grew to be an eight-year-old girl whose mother had the widsom to set aside some money so she could enroll Judith in children’s art classes at the University of Chicago. The class met every Saturday, and it was on those Saturdays that the future Judy Chicago wandered the museum and envisioned herself as the artist she would become.

The weekend art classes and walks through the museum helped solidify her identity as an artist. She knew that she wanted to grow up and be a famous artist who changed the world with her work, and that is exactly what she has done.

What else I learned

In real estate, they say, location, location, location.

In art they say, document, document, document.

When Judy Chicago graduated from high school and left the city for which she would name herself, she headed west to study art at University of California at Los Angeles, and it was there that she met a woman by the name of June Wayne. Ms Wayne was an artist who made it her life’s mission to bring lithography back to the United States, and it was June who taught Judy the importance of documenting one’s work, and this lesson would be something that would make all the difference in Judy Chicago’s future.

In one group exhibition, Ms. Chicago found that she was the only woman invited to be in the show. When she challenged the curator as to why more women weren’t included, he told her that she had been the only woman who documented her work.

The art of provenance

The American Heritage Dictionary defines provenance as:

Place of origin

and in art, provenance is everything. Without being able to document where something originated, the thing is not the thing, and it seems that even in what we think of as the modern world, women artists, like their domestic counterparts, often did not document their work in the way that was needed to both elevate the work and to be taken seriously as artists.

My take aways from my encounters with Judy Chicago

One: If you’re not sure you should take a picture of someone in a public restroom, you shouldn’t.

Two: Free doesn’t mean cheap. The lessons I learned from Merry Scully’s interview of Judy Chicago were invaluable. The fact that it cost me nothing but my time to hear the interview did not diminish the value.

Three: You never know what you will learn if you show up and take a seat at the table — or as was the case here, in the lecture hall.

Four: You might as well surrender to your inner three-year-old. She knows what you want and who you are.

Five: Document, document, document. Just this week I wanted to reference how I had solved an issue with a crochet closure for a purse I made. I had come up with an innovative solution to a problem that has plagued me. I also did not bother to document it. Hopefully the person I gave it to can send me photos, but if I had just done the work of documenting it, I wouldn’t have to lean on hope.

Six: The family we come from, where we were raised, who our friends are — we each have our own personal provenance, and there is no point in trying to forge our provenance; we just need to forge ahead with our lives.

Crocheter on a mission to make the world a better place — one stitch at a time. Twitter: @crochetbug. Crochet blog:

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