Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual whose career now spans five decades. Her influence both within and beyond the art community is attested by her inclusion in hundreds of publications throughout the world. Her art has been frequently exhibited in the United States as well as in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, a number of the books she has authored have been published in foreign editions, bringing her art and philosophy to readers worldwide. In the early seventies after a decade of professional art practice, Chicago pioneered Feminist art and art education through a unique program for women at California State University, Fresno, a pedagogical approach that she has continued to develop over the years.
Chicago’s work with colored smoke and pyrotechnics dates back to the 1960s when she began her Atmospheres series. “When Judy Chicago began her Atmospheres, she was interrogating the land art movement, a movement not only dominated by male artists, but for which monumental earth works were the norm,” says Candice Hopkins, the senior curator for the Toronto Biennial of Art, which has also commissioned a smoke piece from Chicago to close its exhibition in 2022. In contrast to her male contemporaries, Chicago brought a uniquely feminine expression to the typically destructive nature of Land Art at the time, blanketing the landscape with clouds of color to highlight humankind’s relationship to, rather than dominion over, the land. Chicago’s contribution to the Land Art movement, which has only recently been acknowledged, asks audiences to really “LOOK” at the environment and through the medium of color, understand its beauty and fragility and the importance of becoming better stewards of the natural world.
Chicago’s recent “Smoke Sculptures” pick up where her Atmospheres left off in 1974. Like these earlier works, her site-specific piece designed for Desert X will leave no trace. She will be working with environmentally friendly smoke in the unique ecosystem that is a part of The Living Desert. Like all of Palm Springs, the site is the homeland of the Cahuilla people.
Hopkins states: “Their name for Palm Springs is Se-he, or boiling water, both a reference to the springs and the filifera palm tree. Their origin story of this place centers on a young girl who tried to save a baby from drowning in the spring, losing her own life in the process. Perhaps Chicago’s most recent Atmosphere will be a means to call attention to the central place of women in this land, and the need to recognize the Cahuilla people not only as its true custodians but the most important voices in what takes place here.”