Judy Chicago—The End: Stages of Dying

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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“Death is still a fearful, frightening happening and the fear of death is a universal fear.”—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 3/6: Anger, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

In 1969, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (b. 1926) published On Death and Dying, a groundbreaking book in which she first proposed the five stages of grief—a common emotional cycle for those who have lost a loved one or who are facing their own mortality. This model, which includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, has become a prominent framework for humans to understand our complicated and multifaceted response to loss. Kübler-Ross did not arrive easily at her pioneering work. Her father was strictly opposed to her studying medicine, encouraging her instead to become a secretary or maid. And in 1958, she was disqualified from a residency in pediatrics because she was pregnant—though this led her to accept one in psychiatry.

Continuing her commitment to centering women in history, as she did in The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago (b. 1939) draws on Kübler-Ross’s work for “Stages of Dying,” the first section of The End. Chicago represents these stages of grief and simultaneously reckons with her own mortality.

Judy Chicago - Stages of Dying 1 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 1/6, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint, pen work, and luster on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Denial 2 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 2/6: Denial, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Anger 3 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 3/6: Anger, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Bargaining 4 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 4/6: Bargaining, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Depression 5 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Acceptance 6 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 6/6: Acceptance, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 16 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

The main figure in “Stages of Dying” is a nude older woman who shares facial characteristics with Chicago. However, in choosing to portray the woman without hair, Chicago removes one of her own most recognizable traits—her short, vibrantly hued curls. The baldness of the figure renders it somewhat androgynous and, according to Chicago, makes it an archetypal “everywoman,” a universal figure to whom death will eventually come. Chicago presents an aged body that is far less prevalent than the idealized inventions of (mostly) male artists over the centuries. In lieu of a youthful and supple form, the artist gives us a wiry and wrinkled protagonist who refutes the trappings of stereotypical femininity.

The “everywoman” radiates with colored auras in each scene. In “Anger” the figure is charged with a deep red border that travels along her arms, torso, and neck. In “Depression” the figure emanates a melancholy teal. “Acceptance” is a vibrant and revelatory conclusion: the figure looks skyward and glows in bright yellow. Kübler-Ross built her theory through extensive interviews and research, and Chicago adds a visual dimension to this framework with her startling images and expressive colors.

Although Kübler-Ross understood the fear of death as universal, she conceived of the stages of grief as a process for healing. Chicago’s work process may have echoed that model. As the artist says, “As difficult as it was to confront my own mortality, it brought me to a place of acceptance.”

Opening This Week: Judy Chicago—The End

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain and two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

Judy Chicago, In the Shadow of Death, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

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Over the course of her long career, Judy Chicago’s artistic subject matter has included sex, birth, masculinity, the perversion of power, and violence. Now she addresses perhaps the last taboo: death. Our society holds an undeniable discomfort around aging and death, and in The End, Chicago tackles the subjects head on, as both a universal human experience and a personal rumination. In a culture that prizes youth and beauty—particularly for women—Chicago’s stark images of aged bodies are an antidote. She also grapples with the mortality of entire ecosystems that have been irreparably damaged by the action, or inaction, of humans. With The End, Chicago continues her history of merging the personal and political with luminous colors, technical mastery, and uncomfortable subjects.

“In many ways, this series is the culmination of 50 years of studio practice, a practice that has taken me on a journey of discovery through many different topics expressed through a wide range of techniques,” said Chicago. “In a world in which women’s cultural production continues to be undervalued, discounted, or marginalized, I am pleased to premier this work for the first time at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only museum in the world dedicated to ensuring that women’s art is preserved.”

The series is divided into three distinct sections, “Stages of Dying,” “Mortality,” and “Extinction.” In the first, viewers are presented with an older female “everywoman” who viscerally experiences psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. In “Mortality,” Chicago envisions different scenarios that may play out in her own inevitable death. And in “Extinction,” Chicago illustrates the harm that humans have brought to groups of animals and plants that are now threatened with extinction—from elephants killed for their tusks to trees flayed of their bark.

Judy Chicago - Title Panel The End A Meditation on Death and Extinction

Judy Chicago, Title Panel: The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint, pen work, and luster on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Depression 5 of 6

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die #7

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #7, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Smothered

Judy Chicago, Smothered, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2016; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 18 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Extinction detail polar bear

Judy Chicago, Extinction Relief (detail), from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2018; Patinated bronze, 53 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 14 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

While Chicago is best known for The Dinner Party (1974), the renowned mixed-media installation that celebrates the legacies of women throughout history, The End also shares connections with her many other prescient bodies of work. Chicago has built her career on pushing boundaries, and The End is no less audacious than her earlier projects.

“Judy Chicago: New Views” Available Now

Cover image of "Judy Chicago: New Views"; the book's title is placed in thin white type over a picture of purple smoke clouds, part of her "Atmospheres" series

As the first major monograph on the feminist artist Judy Chicago in nearly 20 years, Judy Chicago: New Views provides fresh perspectives by leading scholars and curators. Many people know her famed installation The Dinner Party (1974–79), the centerpiece of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Her other prescient bodies of work—on sexuality, birth, death, violence, our relationship with natural world, and more—are attracting attention as the art world takes a renewed look at this taboo-breaking contemporary artist.

This fully illustrated volume provides fresh perspectives on Chicago’s career and accompanies the exhibition of her new work in Judy Chicago—The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, on view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020, at NMWA. Highly esteemed contributors offer a new examination of Chicago’s wide-ranging artistic expression and powerful voice. Sarah Thornton’s opening essay provides a rich, yet succinct overview of Chicago’s artistic vision and legacy, and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s fascinating interview with Chicago is one of the most in-depth conversations with the artist to date.

Other essays—by Chad Alligood, Manuela Ammer, Massimiliano Gioni, Philipp Kaiser, Jonathan D. Katz, Martha C. Nussbaum, and William J. Simmons—focus on key bodies of Chicago’s work across her career. They look at her early minimalist works created in Los Angeles in the ’60s and ’70s, the creation of the feminist art movement, and her experimental work in pyrotechnics—as well as her major projects The Dinner Party, Birth Project, Holocaust Project, and PowerPlay. Renowned philosopher Nussbaum concludes the volume with an essay on The End, calling the major new work “startling, upsetting, and profoundly loving.”

To mark the publication of New Views, Nussbaum and Chicago will be in conversation about the book and exhibition at NMWA on September 22. Fresh Talk: Judy Chicago—New Views provides a chance, in real time, to dive deeper into the work and life of an artist steadfastly committed to expanding the role of the artist and claiming her role in history.

Judy Chicago: New Views is published on the occasion of the artist’s 80th birthday, as well as the announcement of the Judy Chicago online archival portal, created through a collaboration between NMWA, the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University, and Penn State University.

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Judy Chicago: New Views
Published by: National Museum of Women in the Arts and Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers
Price: $55 U.S.; 240 pages / hardcover / 10 x 11 in.
ISBN: 978-1-78551-182-0