Pioneering feminist Judy Chicago sets the stage inside an anthropomorphic sculpture lined with banners embroidered with burning questions
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
“What if women ruled the world?” That’s the central polemic, posed point-blank by artist Judy Chicago at Dior’s Spring/Summer 2020 haute couture show, held in the Musée Rodin gardens in Paris on Jan. 20 and for which she designed a spectacular set.
Chicago, who famously divested her patronymic name before a 1970 solo show at Cal State Fullerton, has become renowned for fearlessly questioning western civilization’s patriarchal bent; now Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, is taking up the query in her own way, offering an interpretation of what women could wear amid a new world order — and where they’d gather.
Chiuri’s answer is a meditation on a diaphanous silhouette inspired by the tubular drape of a Greek peplos, showcased inside a 45-foot-high inflatable goddess sculpture. The soft, free-flowing clothes seem tailor-made for the shelter’s rounded womb-like interior, what Chicago calls “the body of the mother goddess,” a space that’s open to the public through Jan. 26.
“I proposed that Dior build the goddess figure that I had never been able to realize”
Chicago, now 80, first dreamed up the massive sculpture in the late 1970s amid a career spent asking provocative questions about women and their cultural and historical place. “I proposed that Dior build the goddess figure that I had never been able to realize and that the show be held inside the body of the goddess,” says Chicago.
In Paris, Chiuri, who is also Dior’s first female creative director, is again adding her voice to the conversation Chicago’s been exploring over the past four decades. For her first Dior collection, Chiuri emblazoned T-shirts with the title of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s volume We Should All Be Feminists (proceeds went to Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation) and later tapped British-born, California-based artist Penny Slinger to convert Dior’s Avenue Montaigne ateliers into an immersive surrealist collage exploring the female psyche.
In preparation for Dior’s new show, Chicago commissioned female students from the Chanakya School of Craft in Mumbai to create a series of 10-foot velvet tapestries inscribed with provocative follow-ups to her initial question, including “Would God be female?” or “Would buildings resemble wombs?” plus “Would there be private property?” alongside “Would men and women be equal?” and “Would the Earth be protected?”
Each query is hand-embroidered amid appliques, a nod to Chicago’s ongoing campaign, launched in Southern California during the 1960s and early ’70s, to incorporate traditional handiwork into her art. Echoes of Chicago’s collaborative seminal work — a matriarchal banquet table set for mystical and monumental historical women called “The Dinner Party” that debuted at SFMOMA in 1979 — pervade the captivating Dior set. The interior of the mother goddess structure, Chicago points out, is “like being inside a warm, enveloping, safe environment, like the world should be.”
Bianca Jagger, Sabine Getty, Lucie de la Falaise, Alexa Chung, Tessa Thompson and Sigourney Weaver were all on hand to take in the latest project heralding Chicago’s artistic foresight in recent years. Last winter, the artist took over Jeffrey Deitch’s booth at the inaugural Frieze Los Angeles art fair, and the gallerist staged a full survey of her early works this past fall in his eponymous North Orange Drive space.
In Paris, her unwavering vision is as sharp as ever, as is her sense of humor. “When we walked through the Rodin museum, I became acutely aware of its ‘masculiness’ nature and how the museum and most of the sculptures [by Auguste Rodin] are kind of a paean to masculinity,” Chicago says. “Now here, behind the museum, is a paean to femininity,” she adds, smiling.
Feature image: The anthropomorphic setting, designed by JUDY CHICAGO, which hosted the DIOR runway show at Paris Fashion Week. Photo by Adrien Dirand/Dior.
Jan. 23, 2020
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