Face to Face

On 17 June 2011 I had the pleasure of sitting face to face with Judy Chicago, one of my favourite artists. Fittingly, the reason for our meeting was to discuss her 2010 publication Frida Kahlo Face to Face in which Chicago and art historian Frances Borzello reassess the work of the iconic painter.[1] When I read the press release before receiving a copy of the book, I thought ‘Why another book on Kahlo and why Chicago as the author?’ The answers were staring me in the face; in my own performance lecture Performance Art Can Change Your Life For The Better I refer to Chicago as ‘my role model with role models’ and show a still of The Dinner Party (1974-9) as evidence of her efforts to find heroines from Western history to identify with and emulate. As she herself articulates in the introduction of the Kahlo book, in the heyday of the second wave Chicago was one of a slew of women who searched the archives to excavate overlooked women who they could take up as mentors and write into a new narrative of art herstory.[2] In other words, writing this book is in tune with Chicago’s lifelong goals, in this case re-examining a woman’s work in ways that have been ignored by patriarchy.

            Back in the 70s at The Women’s Building in Los Angeles, Chicago gave a slide lecture (that she had since forgotten about) which was witnessed by the now chief NY editor for Prestel, Christopher Lyon. That lecture was the first time Lyon was introduced to the work of Frida Kahlo, so it seemed fitting to him that Chicago pen this monograph, the first in a series of books that will have an artist writing about another artist who influenced them. Reviewing this publication has not only provided me with the opportunity to sit face to face with one of my art idols, but also gives me a chance to think about role models more generally and to reflect on the relationship between the personal, the populist and the political.

[Stay tuned for more.]

[1] The book was touring with talks at major galleries in the UK and Ireland.

[2] Linda Nochlin’s essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” was a battle cry to historians to re-evaluate the exclusion of women artists from dominant art histories, originally published in ARTnews, January 1971: pp. 22-39, 67-71. See also Germaine Greer’s The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, London: Secker and Warburg, 1979. Aside from Chicago, other artists worked in this vein, an example being Hannah O’Shea who chanted the names of every female artist she knew of in a performance lasting several hours entitled The Litany of Women Artists (1977).