Part 1 of 3
Judy Chicago: Suzanne said to
me last night, which of course is true, I have the worst judgment of
anybody on the face of the earth. I of course misjudged all people in
my program. I thought, except for Faith, the two people I would have
bet would never have done anything would have been Madeleine Green and
Suzanne Lacy, who of course. . . .she comes to me, a psychology major
and says, I wanna be creative. Now would you let her in? So, what she
lacked in visual talent she made up for in drive, determination, rage
and passion and philosophy. And sometimes that's more important. I
mean, she had no visual skills whatsoever, not like a lot of us who
went to art school. None.
Lynn Hershman: How did it all
happen at Fresno? Why did it happen?
JC: Now we're going back into
the end of the 60s, and I think it's important to understand what
it was like in the 60s in Los Angeles. It was very very male dominated.
There were almost no women artists who are visible at all. I was quite.
. .really fighting it out, pretty much alone, isolated. Like I had come
out of art school with a number of women, but they all sort of disappeared.
They might have been working but nobody knew who they were until actually
Mimi and I went around in the early 70s to find women artists. I mean,
they were absolutely.. . .
The Dinner Party became the focus of
just unbelievable garbage.
So, I was. . .I wanted to be taken seriously
as an artist and I fought to make a place for myself. That was very
important in terms of what I did then, going to Fresno and starting
to educate the art community. Because, had I not made a place for myself
and been taken seriously as an artist, as one of the male artists said
as I began to talk about my struggles as a woman artist, he said, If
it hadn't been you Judy, no one would have listened. Because we took
you seriously as an artist we listened. And that was true. It's because
I was part of the community. If you were not part of the community you
had no opportunity to participate in the dialogue of the community.
So, I sort of had started at the end of the 60s talking about what it
was like. And I can't remember exactly when I decided I wanted to
start a program. I knew I wanted to start a program. I specifically
went and talked to them at that school about the fact that young women
art students were not getting a fair share.
I specifically chose a school away from
Los Angeles, not in the center of power, but somewhere far away where
there would not be. . .where they would not understand the implications
of what I was doing, and it was really radical. I presented it in a
way that was pretty tempered, that I wanted to address the fact that
so many young students went into art school and so few professional,
working women artists came out. And I wanted to try and address that.
And they gave me a tremendous amount of latitude at this school. They
didn't require that I be in faculty meetings, which they knew. . .I'm
not sure who they were trying to protect, me or the faculty, actually
now that I think about it. But at the time it was me.
When I think about it now, it's sort
of outrageous. I started this program where young women could work with
me. They could take two classes with me and they could take independent
study with me for two semesters. So, basically they could study almost
exclusively with me for a year and get credit and we went off the campus
and I began to try and address the lack that I had felt when I went
to art school and professionalize. That is, when I came up, one had
to disengage from one's identification as a woman, and that was the
terms of being taken seriously as an art student, a graduate student
or a working professional. You could not show in any way shape or form
in your person or your work that you were a woman. And if you did you
were disqualified. For example, not only did my work not reflect it,
did I move farther and farther away from any subject matter, but I would
not be caught dead cooking in public if someone from the art community
were coming because, I mean, I'm serious. They would come to my studio
and if I were cooking then, forget it. She's just a woman, she's
not an artist. I mean, it was ridiculous.
So I wanted to address that because what
had happened was that this process had cost me something. What it had
cost me was the fullness of my own identity. So in a way I was going
backwards, back to where I started, and by helping my students address
their own growth as women and how to become artists based on being women,
not by denying they were women, I was about to help myself too in that
process. . .help myself through. I was teaching so I could be taught,
because there was no such program, there was no such possibility. And
it was my students actually who helped educate me, because by that time
I had gotten so far away from my own impulses as a woman, that my work
did not convey the content that I really wanted to convey. And so the
program was aimed at opening up the possibility for women to become
educated on their own terms, and also open up the possibility of my
reconnecting with who I really was so that I could work out of who I
was, fully, as an artist.
We did all kinds of things in those days.
We started the first art history stuff. I mean, nobody knew anybody.
I remember going to Canada and discovering Emily Carr and bringing back
her slides. We went through books, we found pictures, we photographed
and made slide libraries, we learned about our heritage, we discovered
our heritage, we found old books on women, we read women's history.
I was engaged in a women's history project that was the beginning
days of learning about my own heritage. We simply blocked out any information
about men. We didn't study men at all, figuring everybody had studied
men plenty. And so we were all into remedial education, learning out
own history, our own heritage. And the thing that was amazing about
it, it was an unbelievable education for me because I didn't identify
with women. I really didn't identify with women anymore. I go into
art school, there were two tenured female faculty members when I was
an undergraduate, who I had nothing to do with because I already got
the message of disrespect for them. And in fact one of them had an art
collection of women artists, which I thought was so quaint at the time.
I couldn't imagine why she would want to do something so ridiculous,
collect women artists. I mean, now I realize my God, here was this woman
trying to preserve our heritage and I, like this young woman in the
lecture today, disrespected here. I mean, I understand why they do it
to me because I did it to my elders. Now, of course, thirty years after
I went to art school at UCLA there's not one female tenured faculty
professor. Not one.
Anyway, I had so disconnected from my
own history and identity as a woman. I thought it was a complement to
make art like a man. I thought it was great. But, the problem is that
it's like working with half yourself, and I wanted to reconnect with
myself. How I started out with these young girls, who had. . .first
of all they were very unsophisticated, because they came from Fresno.
And we started out. . .I started by just finding out who they were.
And I had a certain amount of teaching experience from, which I had
always tried in my teaching to start from where the students were. I
was not an authoritarian or domineering teacher. And I brought those
principles into the class. But, I mean I was a lot more angry than I
am now, because one always is in the early stages of empowerment. I
was discovering the degree to which I had been disenfranchised.
So we got ourselves off into this space
and really started. I remember asking my students how many of them had
been raped. And being just totally shocked when like a quarter or half
of them raised their hands. It was all new information. I was doing
interviews with women who had been raped, it was all discovery. Discovery
of what our true experiences had been, what our experiences had been
in school, what our experiences had been in personal relationships.
And then trying to figure out how to make art out of that, as opposed
to making art out of these ideas of what art is supposed to be. The
thing is that after I lifted the lid, it was like an explosion, it was
right there under the surface and really it was being held down by a
very thin veneer of repression and suppression and the young women began
to just blossom. But I had to teach them everything. They didn't know
how to use tools, they didn't have discipline, they didn't know
how to work in an extended way, most of them. . .they came to build
walls wearing sandals with open toed shoes, dropping hammers on their
That would be the end, we'd get sued.
They had to get boots. I had to really work with them in terms of their
person, not their talent, their person, their ego structure, their sense
of self, and part of that I did through the discovery of their own history
and by validated their own experiences as subject matter for art. So
we had a year in which we had to work together and we started doing
performance, because I discovered that it was easier to get access to
the subject matter through performance. It was very easy, most women
knew how to act out even if they didn't have any experience performing,
they were experienced at performing roles in society. And so they could
perform. So we started using performance as a way of getting to subject
matter. We would come up with an idea we'd all act it out, and we'd
begin and that was really how all the feminist performance started.
LH: And not just feminist performance,
but the genre of performance.
JC: Yes. The genre of performance. So, this is like, 1970, right? And then at the end of the year we had an open studio and an exhibition and performances and all these people came from Los Angeles, about 200 people came up from the art community of Los Angeles to see this. Of course, fortunately I was leaving the school at the end of the year. That was basically when everybody realized what I had been doing, and had I wanted tenure it would never have worked. It was sort of like hit and run, right. But, I didn't need to do anymore. I mean, basically, I had in fact discovered my own heritage too, in the process. And I think that my teachings up to that point, then I taught a very limited amount of time, for a couple of years. But, because my passion was so enormous, to make art, and teaching for me was as much a way of teaching myself how to make art as it was teaching my students how to make art. We all learned how to make art from our point of view as women in that year. And then we went to Cal Arts.[End of Part 1]
Part 2 of 3
JC: What influenced me to start
it was necessity, personal necessity, aesthetic necessity, intellectual
necessity, emotional necessity, and necessity stimulated me too.
What gave me the sense that I could?
One, I had some amount of reputation by then as an artist, so I could
get a teaching job, and I could get a job where I got to do what I wanted,
which was very important. I had a certain access by that time. So, that
was one thing that made it possible. The other thing. . .I had been
reading at the end of the 60s, which of course I started reading some
of that feminist literature that was coming out of New York. I mean
I remember the sense of relief that I felt to realize other women were
speaking up, and that I was not totally alone. Because I had just gone
through a decade of being absolutely leperized in the art community.
I mean, there's a story, actually, about this art curator who was
the most important art curator in the community in Los Angeles. He used
to go around to all the artists studios all the time, and he came to
my studio all the time. I shared my studio with two other men, male
artists. And one time he came to my studio and I had done this piece
that then went into a big, major show of minimal art in the Jewish Museum
called Primary Structures.
But, when he came, I had finished this
piece and he hadn't seen it, so I wanted to show it to him because
he was of course the most important curator in the community. And he
wouldn't look at it. He averted his eyes from it. And years later.
. .and he went and looked at the work of one of the male artists whose
work he had seen at least ten times, the same piece. And years later
we had this conversation about it, and he said to me, Well you know
Judy, in the art community in those days there were only two positions
for women. One was a groupie, and other was the artist's caretaker.
So, what was I to make of the idea that I would go to these studios
and you, a woman, were making stronger art than all these male artists.
What could I do my dear except, as if I was watching a woman raise her
skirt and roll down her stockings? I had to avert my eyes. And he said
this to me jokingly and laughingly, as if this was very funny. Well,
this was completely devastating to me. I was a young artist. He controlled
the destiny of one's work, this man, single handedly he had a lot
to do with whether your career went forward or didn't go forward.
And they used to say things to me like,
what're you a suffragette? Horrible things, like, I don't want to
be around you, you're too direct, you're too honest, it makes me
embarrassed. I mean, just hideous things they used to say to me all
the time. So, imagine my sense of relief when suddenly I discovered
there were all these other women who were also saying all these hideous
things. Hideous things, from their point of view hideous, but honest,
things. Robin Morgan, Valerie Solanas, it was the early days of the
radical feminists, and I was just completely, totally overjoyed and
terrified, both. I was very very frightened in those days. I was very
frightened of the idea of opening all this up and really being honest.
I was really scared. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but
I was impelled to do it. I was just impelled to do it. I had no choice.
LH: When did the name change happen?
JC: Now I laugh about it because
I always say that, in the early days we had no forms, so we adapted
the forms of the Black Panthers before we developed our own forms. I
always wasn't comfortable with my name because when I was in college
I was married, I got married, and I used my own name, my maiden name,
even when I was married in the 60s. And then when I got out of college,
out of graduate school, there were many people who were showing with
my name, who had the same name as me, which was Cohen, so I didn't
want to have the same name as everybody else. So, then I started using.
. .when I first started showing my first husband's name, which was
Gerowitz, and then he died. I was 23 years old, and now I was in the
position, people coming up to me and saying, Oh I met your parents,
and it was Jerry's parents. So I felt like I had no name, and I didn't
really want to be identified for the rest of my life with somebody I
was married to for two years.
He died quite tragically, but still it
was very conflictful and confusing for me. And I had this other name
that everybody used to call me, called Judy Chicago. It was an underground
name, and at that time in L.A. all these people, all these artists had
underground names. Larry Bell was Ben Locke, I can't remember the
rest of them, but I remember we used to list our phone numbers in those
names. It was part of being in. I always said it was because you wanted
to get away from the telephone company because we all owed money. So,
anyway, I was named Judy Chicago, that's what they used to call me.
I had this tremendous Chicago accent. My first dealer, Rolf Nelson,
who was really one of the few people who was very very supportive of
me. I mean, Rolf was really, really important to my development as an
artist, and he was not a misogynist person. He was really a very fair-minded
So, he always wanted me to change my
name, because he thought this was a great name. He came up with it.
And I never did anything frivolously so the idea of just changing my
name frivolously was not. . I couldn't do that. But, then when I didn't
feel like I had a name, and I wanted to make some statement, some kind
of symbolic statement about the fact that I had come out fighting. (something
about boxing????) That was an accident that happened. How it happened
was an accident, but of course if wasn't an accident. So I decided
to change my name when I had this big show at Fullerton to announce
the fact that I was taking control of my own destiny henceforth, and
I was going to. . . .it was sort of an act of defiance, and all that
stuff. Funny. But, I really like my name. That's the thing now, it's
the right name, it's my name. Anyhow, and self-naming, you know, Lucy
Lippard had just written this book about. . .the first multicultural
art book, and she talks about the stages of empowerment. And one of
the first stages is naming. I think that's one of the reasons so many
women chose names, took names of their own because it's part of the
process of empowerment.
Anyway, they did this boxing ring ad,
which sort of by accident got into ArtForum,
which was not anything I engineered. That was just unusual because things
don't usually happen to me by accident. Everything I do, practically,
I have to engineer. Then the next thing I knew, every place I went in
the country there was this boxing ring ad of me in the boxing ring.
And then, of course, all these male artists would come up to me and,
Hey you want to box? It was a joke, because everybody in the LA art
community knew that I was not this type of person. In the LA art community
there were all these ads. All these guys were always doing these big,
macho ads, so this was my little take off on all these guys with their
muscles and their studs and this and that. I really thought it was hilarious,
but then it got printed in Art Forum and everybody thought this
was really who I was. For years, I had to deal with this bizarre idea
that this was who I was, was a boxer. I mean, it was so funny and stupid.
But, it really did. . .what it did it symbolized the moment in time
when women did in fact come out fighting. This happened to coincide
with when they did the Whitney, when they did the Tampaxes and the eggs
and the protests were starting. The women's artist movement was starting
in the east coast, so all this happened around the same time.
LH: How do you feel now having
got some distance from the very beginning and from the early stages
of struggling for support. . Dinner Party?
JC: I don't want to deal with
Cal Arts because I'm dealing with the problem of bringing the feminist
art program into a male-dominated institution. So, then we brought the
program to Cal Arts from Fresno, which the idea being embraced by a
mainstream institution and being able to actually address women's
educational needs within an institution that supposedly was committed
to that. That was all thrilling but of course it didn't work because
I brought one set of values to that institution that were in complete
contradiction to the values of the institution. And what would happen
is my poor students, who are in early stage, would have to leave my
classroom and enter the larger institution to be confronted by a constant
barrage of different values. And they weren't strong enough to stand
up to that. And neither was I, at that time. I might be now, but I wasn't
then. I had to leave. I mean, I left Cal Arts, I just left. And we started
the Woman's Building and after a year I left that because I had become
strengthened in my own sense of what I wanted to do and be as an artist,
and what has always impelled me for all these years, is my own work.
I had such a burning need to make art. I had such a passion for making
art, such a desire to make art and such a big vision of what I wanted
So, then I started the Dinner Party,
and for ten years I worked within the structure of a women's community,
and I made art about women, and I made art with the focus and subject
matter was women, and women's experience. And that experience both
strengthened me as an artist, I mean it totally strengthened me as an
artist and it strengthened me in my point of view apart from helping
me create all that art, which I had no other support structure for.
But, then I came to a point in 1982 where I couldn't make art about
women any more. I had actually answered my question about what it meant
to be a woman, and I wanted to bring my gaze to other issues. I think
that first I made a body of work about men, first body of work I made
that was basically met by silence. It's beyond I think where we have
developed a support network for. And now I've been working for a number
of years on a project about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the Dinner Party
was touring around, and the Dinner Party as we all know, when it was
first premiered, it first entered the culture fairly easily and my fear
and terror was replaced by elation and a tremendous sense of pride and
I remember when Susan Stamberg interviewed
me when the piece opened at the San Francisco Museum and she said, Well,
Judy, what are you going to do when the controversy starts? And I go,
Controversy? What controversy? I mean, 5000 people came to the opening,
people were giving me necklaces and flowers, I mean it was this incredible
festive gala celebration of women's achievement and my achievement
and our achievement and I said, Phew! Fantastic, we really are in a
moment in time, we really are in a moment in history when women can
enter the culture, we can be ourselves, we can be in fact bring our
point of view into the world, ha ha ha! Then there's this huge struggle
where the Dinner Party was like rejected and I was poverty stricken
and had nothing and had to start all over again from scratch and build
a support network all over again from the outpouring of support I got
from the Dinner Party.
And then there was this unprecedented
and undocumented phenomena where grass roots groups all around the world
organized to get the Dinner Party shown and seen. Like I said, the Dinner
Party was the only piece in history everybody wanted to see and nobody
wanted to show. So, the Dinner Party traveled around the world for ten
years, organized, impelled by this grass roots movement. People would
raise money when their institutions wouldn't show it. They showed
it themselves. They didn't care. And slowly the Dinner Party overcame
the prejudice and the resistance and all that stuff and came back after
having been seen as part of the Australian bicentennial a story of triumph
and victory over adversity, you know? Wonderful story of triumph. .
.and I'd done the Birth Project, which had been circulated all over
America, a hundred exhibitions. We'd started our permanent placement
program where we gift work of the Birth Project. Birth Project work
is starting to be in institutions all over the country.
I had continued as an artist, I'm still
poverty stricken, I still don't have a pot to piss in, but slowly
my reputation as an artist grew and now I began to be known all over
the world, I am known all over the world which astounded me too. I began
to be sort of an institution, already. And the Dinner Party came back
and we had a couple of proposals for permanent housing. I mean, after
all, that's what happens. First you do the piece, and they show the
piece and then it gets permanently housed. That's the story of art,
right? So, nobody was prepared for the ferocity of the assault on the
Dinner Party. Nobody was prepared. Not the people at UDC, not board
of Through the Flower, which is the small arts organization that has
circulated and maintained the Dinner Party. Not anybody associated with
the Dinner Party and not me.
LH: Why was it given to them?
JC: Well they presented this wonderful
proposal. We were entertaining proposals with the board of Through the
Flower and they presented this proposal, they had this wonderful building
that they owned, the Carnegie Library, an old 19th century
building right on the arts corridor. They had this vision of the Dinner
Party as part of this multicultural arts institution that would show
work by people who were involved in the struggle for dignity and freedom.
I thought, the board of Through the Flower thought this was a wonderful
context. They were working on establishing the first major collection
of contemporary African. . .significant African-American art that we
lodged in another gallery. It was going to be part of their new Mt.
Vernon campus. It was going to be a multi-cultural institution. It was
forward-looking and looking to the future. And I'm already past separatism.
I'm interested in the values of my work being enshrined in institutions
whose values are committed to a larger human vision than what the art
world now represents. Which is a very narrow human vision, you know?
So, this was extremely appealing, it
was a very appealing vision and nobody, nobody for the ferocity of the
assault on the Dinner Party, and it's very important to understand
why it was so ferocious. The only thing I can tell you, in terms of
a parallel to what happened when the Dinner Party was debated on the
floor of Congress for an hour and 27 minutes, the parallel is really
to the abortion discussion on the floor of the House of Louisiana, in
the Louisiana Congress, where all men discussed the fate of women's
bodies. All men discussed the future of the Dinner Party, not one woman
spoke up. Men determined and decided that the Dinner Party was not going
to enter history. And the reason the battle was so ferocious was it
was a symbolic battle, of course. The Dinner Party has always been a
lightening rod, one can always measure by the ferocity of the assault
on my work where we are in history.
People haven't understood that. I mean,
one can step back from my work and look at it not just as the work of
an individual artist but as someone who is speaking out of a point of
view and perspective that has wide grass roots support, so I'm a vehicle
for that. So, if I come in all these other people come in too. It's
not going to be just one individual artists coming in, but this point
of view coming in. And so what this is, it's just like at the end
of the Dinner Party, when the No Entry signs went up. This is just a
bigger No Entry sign. And the thing that was so so poignant for me about
this particular thing happening at this point in time, is that the Holocaust
project is a project in which I'm involved and investigating a period
of time when the state turned on its own citizens, and to actually understand
what we endured, what I endured, what this assault was really like is
really hard for people. The only person who understands it probably
is Dennis Barry in Cincinnati, because. . . .it made the debate, at
the beginning of the early 70s, when I made the Dinner Party, look like
I mean, this is the state. They can do
anything they want. I mean, for Congress to spend and hour and 27 minutes
discussing the Dinner Party, I mean, when are they running the country.
I mean, excuse me. It was so frightening, it was so frightening. Why
is art this important. Well, guess what folks, art is this important.
Imagine my surprise. I mean, I always thought art was important but
this important? And hour and 27 minutes, what is at stake here? What
are the values that are stake here? And I think that now I'm still
trying to come to grips with, what does it mean, the prospect of making
work from our own point of view if that work can not become a permanent
part of the culture. What are we doing here, exercising futility? Are
we all going to kill ourselves to work and struggle at great cost personally,
emotionally and intellectually, create this body of work that's going
to be written out of history as fast as we make it? Of course, the feminist
art movement has been practically written out of history.
The gains we made have been pretty much
written out of history. These young women have so little respect for
us as what we've achieved and what we've done. They don't
want to identify with us. They disrespect us. They bring a level of
disrespect to us, which is very shocking and upsetting. Maybe the time
has come for us to step back and evaluate, what have we done? Where
are we? What is the point of what we're trying to do? And also, as
I said in my lecture, we made a big error in the 70s. We cast the argument
incorrectly. Everybody gets a PhD in hindsight, but we cast the argument
on the ground of gender. And guess what, it's not about gender. It's
about values. The values of the feminist art movement were values opposed
to the prevailing mainstream. They were values that would lead to a
reexamination of the role of the artist, the function of art, the relationship
of art to community. The point of the feminist art movement was not
getting ten more women into Leo Castelli gallery.
That was not the point of the feminist
art movement. The point of the feminist art movement as I tried to contribute
to it, was to actually understand the importance and power of art, and
the importance and power of artists, and to help free that power from
the containment in commerce, in the art world, in the small distribution
system for art, in elitism, and I think we've moved very far away
from that. I think if some of us who are still fighting for it. I went
to a conference on women in art not too long ago where I was horrified
to discover that there had been a re-elitizing of both the language
of art and the movement around women's art. It really horrified and
upset me, because if all we've done after all these years is to talk
in the same jargon about women instead of men, then we haven't done
anything. If all we've done after all these years is to not alter
the nature of our art institution so that there is more room for more
people, then somehow we have not been able to make ourselves clear and
clearly heard in terms of what our values are really all about.
LH: You're creating a home now
for the Dinner Party.
JC: No. There is no home for the
Dinner Party. I'm not capable of making a home for the Dinner Party.
I'm only capable of making art. It is not the role of the artist or
the possibility of the artist to make a home for art.
LH: How do you live as an artist?
JC: I live month to month. I'm
barely keeping it together. I have no security, I own nothing.
LH: Do you see change, to convert
the time and effort. . . .?
JC: No, not at the moment. The
thing is that, you know, I've been willing to pay any price to be
able to work. I think it's a price beyond what most human beings are
willing to pay, or anybody should be asked to pay. I lived for many
many years with no private life, I've lived for 30 years with no security.
I never could have, until recently, a family life. I lived in service
to the work. I think that's something beyond most people can ever
do or should be asked to do. I've paid a huge price for it, but I've
been willing to pay the price, because there's also the idea of actually
being able to participate in the dialogue of one's time, to be able
to influence ideas, to be able to. . . .that's not something that
comes cheap. Few women have had that opportunity. It's very very very
rare for anybody to have it, and particularly for women to have it.
So, it's not like I haven't paid the price willingly. I've paid
the price willingly. I don't see how to convert it and I don't see
how to save the Dinner Party. The Dinner Party will not be saved unless
there is the same kind of widespread grassroots movement cropping up
to save it that was to show it. That's the only way it'll be saved
as far as I can see.
But it was shown.
JC: But that happened. I didn't
make that happen. It was a complete surprise to me.
LH: You make it happen by the
JC: The work makes it happen.
So, if the work can make it happen again, then that means that the force
of the Dinner Party. In the Dinner Party. . . .there are enough people
who care about the Dinner Party and who care about what it represents
so that the work can make it happen. But, I can only make the work.
Was there anything that gave you the passion, did you have any models
for you to be able to sustain this level of tenacity and belief, with
all of the price that you had to pay along the way?
JC: My cousin Howard says, It runs in the family. We don't give up. Maybe he's right.[End of Part 2]
Part 3 of 3
LH: What are your plans for the
JC: Well, my first plan is to
try and finish. That's my first plan, and that is going to be very
difficult. The Dinner Party effort cost us both time and money. And
the project is a very long project and it's definitely the hardest,
most demanding undertaking ever, because of the nature of the subject
matter. We had been in it for a very long time, it was very difficult
to deal with. I have to gear myself up, enter it, work, rest, gear myself
up, enter, work, rest, and if I don't, I will go mad, because the
subject matter is looking at the darkest part of us as human beings.
The darkest part of human history, the darkest part of what we are and
what we're capable of. And I had hoped to be finished by 1990, and
we're not going to be finished until the end of 1992, which means
two more years of work, sustaining ourselves, living month-to-month
like this, not knowing if we're going to be able to pay the rent or
pay the bills, or continue next month.
That level of anxiety is much harder
for me now at 50 than it was at 20, much harder. I really lose it when
I feel that I've worked for 30 years and I'm not sure if I'm going
to be able to keep working or pay the rent. It gets me really, really
anxious. So, my first goal is to just try and keep it together, and
that probably means going even further into debt and just beg, borrow,
and steal everything to finish. That's my first goal, is to try and
Then I would like to try and take some
time and regroup. I'm going to need to rest. The Holocaust project
is going to travel. It's a very big project. It's got different
levels and layers and it's going to be the major body of work, which
will travel with programming, so a wide, diverse audience can be educated
about the importance for us of confronting the Holocaust today in the
society, what it means, how it helps us see the world in which we live.
And there will be other levels of shows, works on paper that can travel
to smaller institutions. So that'll be going on. . .and there'll
be programming that can reach out to a wide audience and help contextualize
the work. That's going to be established by the institutions that
are showing this time, which is wonderful. And this time we have, like
with the dinner party, when Henry Hopkins and the San Francisco Museum
worked with us, the Dinner Party, we have institutions that are working
with us to help format this and framework this. But, we have to finish
the work, and then I would like to take a break.
Then, I think I would like to address
teaching for a while. I'd like to teach again for a little while,
I'd like to go back at some of these issues in terms of why, still,
art is taught the way it is, why there's no content confrontation
in art classes. I think art has gotten so far away from its sources,
in terms of the institutionalization and the institutions around art.
And I'd like to see if I can close that gap a little bit. I think
I have some things to offer now from all these years. So, I think I'd
like to do that. Then I'm going to take a deep breath and see where
I am. I hope, I hope that in my lifetime I will see the Dinner Party
housed. I have to say this has been the hardest work for me to let go
of. You know, an artist makes a work and after all this work is 15 years
old and I should be able to let go of it, so why can't I. Well, the
reason it's been so hard to let go of is because the Dinner Party's
transparent. The Dinner Party is not just the Dinner Party, it is our
entire heritage, as women.
To let go of the Dinner Party is to let
go of our entire heritage as women, and it will take to recreate a work
like the Dinner Party, it will decades for the atmosphere, the support,
the artists, the vision to reappear in history. To lose that work, is
to lose a foundation for all of us to build on into the future. To lose
that work, it's not like we're losing some other pieces of work.
So to lose that work is to lose a significant chunk of who we are as
women. If we cannot pass that down and build on it, then may as well
just take out our room in the old people's home and start to rock
because we will have lost it. We will have lost it. It's not enough
to make it, we have to pass it on. We have to pass it on.
You said that you strategized. . .how did that develop? Were there specific
people you would meet with through the years to figure out what the
next step is?
JC: Well the person I meet with
and have met with for twenty years is Lucy Lippard. I mean, we used
to have strategy sessions all over the country during the 70s. We used
to meet and used to try and figure out what to do next. We didn't
know what to do next, we were inventing as we went. Well, we're still
doing it, and we're still aligned. And also, now it's different
because now I have such a broad base of people with whom I'm connected
and worked with for so many years, and with whom I'm still connected.
So, like when the Dinner Party effort was going on, I mean, Diane Gelman
and [unknown] came back in and Mary Ross Taylor, the former director
of Through the Flower came back in and Susan Grode who charted Through
the Flower, is on the board of Through the Flower-I'm mean she directed
the whole campaign, the lobbying campaign. There are a number of women
now, a network of women without whom I would not be working any more.
They've stood by me and supported me and raised money, you know, they've
been my network of support, which I've built from nothing.
Lucy and I were. . .she and I disagreed
a lot over the years. One of the things we disagreed about was the need
for a formulated set of principles about who we were and what we were
as a movement, the feminist art movement. And I think that was a big
mistake. I think we needed it. But, Lucy doesn't believe in that.
She doesn't believe in movements. She believes in. . she's sort
of like Janey Appleseed, spreading seeds all over and hoping they'll
sprout in all wonderful, pluralistic directions, which I agree with
too, but we still needed more of a voice. But, you never know what history
is going to bring, right?
No, but you go forward.
JC: You go forward, and that's
about all I know how to do, is to keep going forward.
[End of Interview]