Visu­al Arts

The Flow­er­ing: The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Judy Chicago

Judy Chica­go

  • Review
By – September 13, 2021

Judy Chicago’s extra­or­di­nary body of art­work reflects the dynamism of her ear­ly com­mit­ments to fem­i­nism and forg­ing a life as an artist. As the decades have unfold­ed, her art­work has con­tin­ued to evolve. New, pow­er­ful works emerge from the stu­dio bear­ing her name, and from the fin­ger­prints of myr­i­ad crafts­peo­ple, with aston­ish­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty. Chicago’s work is mon­u­men­tal and vital­ly rel­e­vant to the cul­ture. While her place in the art­work seems secure, Chicago’s new auto­bi­og­ra­phy, The Flow­er­ing, doc­u­ments both the his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary pre­car­i­ty of her work while also remind­ing read­ers of her vis­cer­al, artis­tic vision.

Some read­ers may be famil­iar with only one of Chicago’s extra­or­di­nary art instal­la­tion projects, such as The Din­ner Par­ty or The Holo­caust Project. The Flow­er­ing intro­duces read­ers to her work’s range over a life­time as a work­ing artist. Chicago’s ear­ly fem­i­nist work, includ­ing the icon­ic Wom­an­house as well as the Birth Project, and her less­er known works, such as Pow­er­Play and My Acci­dent, all receive in depth atten­tion in The Flow­er­ing, accent­ed by full col­or and black-and-white images. The visu­al work is daz­zling; it is fit­ting for Chica­go to have such a rich­ly illus­trat­ed auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Equal­ly daz­zling is Chicago’s sto­ry of her strug­gles to cre­ate the work, to have it seen, and to be respect­ed in the art world.

Chicago’s work is fun­da­men­tal­ly repar­a­tive; she seeks through art to restore his­to­ries to peo­ple with­out pow­er. In The Flow­er­ing, she writes, What we have viewed as the his­tor­i­cal record is pri­mar­i­ly a chron­i­cle of those few peo­ple in pow­er.” Chicago’s art aims to change the his­tor­i­cal record, remak­ing and reimag­in­ing it through the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of art. Yet, as she insists through­out her life writ­ing, she will not accept the lim­its of oth­ers nor will she lim­it her vision or her work. Through this defi­ance of lim­i­ta­tions, the plucky per­sona of Chica­go emerges in The Flow­er­ing—as it has in pre­vi­ous auto­bi­ogra­phies. Chicago’s per­sona on the page is one of a trust­ed friend, a con­fi­dante, a role mod­el. She explains how she did things and why, along the way mak­ing vital con­nec­tions to her broad­er polit­i­cal con­scious­ness. In the intro­duc­tion, she address­es the upris­ings of 2020 in the Unit­ed States chal­leng­ing police bru­tal­i­ty, All my life and work have been devot­ed to fight­ing for jus­tice and equi­ty through my art, I fer­vent­ly hoped that these protests would lead to sub­stan­tive changes, not only in Amer­i­can but around the globe.”

Insight into the mind and cre­ative process of such a tow­er­ing artist as Chica­go is rare, but Chica­go pro­vides read­ers a series of iter­a­tive, insight­ful auto­bi­ogra­phies that maps not only her cre­ative work but also the mate­r­i­al details of her life. The Flow­er­ing con­dens­es her two ear­li­er books, Through the Flower and Beyond the Flower, with new chap­ters that explore more recent aspects of her life and art. Chicago’s char­ac­ter­is­tic reflec­tive and search­ing voice makes The Flow­er­ing a grip­ping read, espe­cial­ly for fans of her ear­li­er books.

Julie R. Ensz­er is a schol­ar and poet. She is the author of four col­lec­tions of poet­ry: Avowed, Lilith’s Demons, Sis­ter­hood, and Hand­made Love, and is the edi­tor of The Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er and Milk & Hon­ey: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Jew­ish Les­bian Poet­ry

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