Judy Chicago—The End: Extinction

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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When asked if it was hard to confront the topic of death—one most people try to avoid—in her latest body of work, Judy Chicago revealed that the process of addressing her own mortality brought her to a place of acceptance. Harder, however, was her work on the “Extinction” section of The End, which she described creating through two “excruciating” years of intense painting. Chicago does not mince words: “To be faced every day with what we are doing to other creatures and the planet was to enter the kingdom of hell.”

Judy Chicago - Collected

Judy Chicago, Collected, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015–16; 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 - Smuggled

Judy Chicago, Smuggled, 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 - Vulnerable

Judy Chicago, Vulnerable, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015–16; 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 - Bleached

Judy Chicago, Bleached, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2017; 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 - 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

Chicago expresses a collective sense of anxiety and sadness in the 15 “Extinction” panels, which depict, often in graphic detail, groups of animals, fish, birds, and flora that have been irrevocably harmed by humans. Her titles for these works directly name the violence enacted on innocent life forms: Smothered, Battered, Bleached, Finned, Harvested, Slit Open, Targeted, Silenced, Poached, Vulnerable.

From polar bears displaced by melting Artic ice to trees flayed of their bark for medicinal purposes, Chicago offers her lament for each of her subjects. Chicago’s handwriting, which has long been part of her artistic practice, appears here as it does in each section of The End. While the artist frequently employs writing in her work to communicate or narrate, the writing in the “Extinction” panels also becomes an integral part of the composition. Chicago emphasizes significant words and phrases with different text sizes, often in capitalized block letters.

A bronze relief sculpture of the faces of a bear, gorilla, and sea turtle; a shark body; and birds. The bear centers the piece with its four claws prominent, the other animals appear to be in the body of the bear.

Judy Chicago, Extinction Relief, 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

Chicago includes a large bronze relief sculpture in “Extinction”—an assemblage of the likenesses of creatures threatened with extinction. The material is notable for its prevalence in monumental statuary and its use throughout history in high art and ceremonial vessels; Chicago honors the animals that once lived. However, the work also evokes the visual language of mounted hunting trophies, calling into question the ethics of killing purely for sport or luxury, and presenting a haunting image of suffering.

For Chicago, the physical stamina needed to execute these works was compounded by the grief she felt for her subjects. Recalling a similar emotional toll while working on the Holocaust Project (1985–93), Chicago says, “That was hard but this was worse,” adding that the Holocaust Project dealt with events in the past while there is no end in sight to the extinction of countless species.

In Her Own Hand: Judy Chicago’s Use of Text in “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, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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Judy Chicago has a long history of incorporating handwritten text into her bold and colorful artworks. Whether embroidered into cloth or painted in watercolor, Chicago uses words within a visual language that invites viewers to reflect on—or challenge—the status quo. In her most recent body of work, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the sections titled “Extinction” and “Mortality” are no different. In these works, made of kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, the artist’s soft, cursive handwriting appears juxtaposed with the difficult and urgent subject matter it communicates. Through words and images, Chicago addresses a culture that averts its eyes from the inevitable and from destruction: aging, death, and extinction.

An image that is part of Judy Chicago's "Mortality" series, depicting the artist's reclined body, her crying husband holding her, and the text "Will I die in my husband's arms?" floating above the image.

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #8, 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

The panels in both series carry the intimacy of a diary in scale, at just 9 by 12 inches each (“Mortality”) or 12 by 18 (“Extinction”). Her distinctive, swirling letters resemble a decorative motif and embrace femininity, sentimentality, and sincere personal reflection. In the “Mortality” works, Chicago imagines various ways she might die and renders these scenarios in striking imagery framed by ruminating text. “Will I die in my husband’s arms?” hovers over an image of the artist’s reclined body, her crying husband holding her.

In “Extinction,” Chicago expresses compassion for the natural world by addressing human greed through factual, heart-wrenching descriptions. These works highlight her meticulous handwriting and commitment to research, presenting urgent information. Text in this series commands moral authority. In Declining (2016), Chicago paints three frogs perched on a cliff facing a distant horizon. Underneath the illustration, she writes:

Frog populations have been declining worldwide and nearly one-third are threatened with extinction. Frogs have survived in their current form for 250 million years and should serve as an alarm call that something is dramatically wrong with the environment. Frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress. Pollution, global warming and habitat destruction have already taken a toll.

In Declining (2016), Chicago paints three frogs perched on a cliff facing a distant horizon. Underneath the illustration, she writes: Frog populations have been declining worldwide and nearly one-third are threatened with extinction. Frogs have survived in their current form for 250 million years and should serve as an alarm call that something is dramatically wrong with the environment. Frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress. Pollution, global warming and habitat destruction have already taken a toll.

Judy Chicago, Declining, 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

Though small in scale, works in “Extinction” are striking and emotional. They urge viewers to question consumption and destruction and advocate for change. In a recent interview, Chicago stated, “I wanted [the artwork] to be in my own hand because I wished to demonstrate that art does not have to be huge in order to be important or moving.”

When artists include language as a technique, they liberate their artwork from its formal properties. Words have the power to control, influence, and inspire—often more directly than images alone. Chicago’s use of her own handwriting welcomes interpretation and introspection, inviting us to reflect on how we spend our time here on Earth.

—Christina Papanicolaou was the summer 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Visualizing Extinction in Judy Chicago’s “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, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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In a piece for the New Yorker this summer about a polar bear that was sighted far from its usual terrain, Michele Moses wrote, “The story of climate change has been told, in part, through pictures of polar bears. And no wonder: in their glittering icy habitat, they reflect the otherworldly beauty that rising temperatures threaten to destroy.” Polar bears, dependent on a habitat of sea ice to hunt for food and raise their young, were the first species to be declared threatened or endangered due to climate change. Little has been done to end this destruction, and greenhouse gases continue to shrink the extent of Arctic ice.

Judy Chicago, Stranded, 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 (b. 1939) captures that otherworldly beauty—and human-caused destruction—in Stranded, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2016). In kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, Chicago depicts a polar bear looking out toward the viewer as it seems to drift backward on an ice floe. Luminous colors evoke the vibrant blues of the Arctic ocean and the reflected light from water and ice.

As artists contend with the urgency of climate change, some portray nature’s stunning grandeur to inspire viewers into protecting the planet; others show human-caused damage that provokes shock and anguish. In combining those approaches, Chicago delivers a painful message through beautiful and delicate works. She has said that this body of work was “personally excruciating to create. To be faced every day with what we are doing to other creatures and the planet was to enter the kingdom of hell.”

Separate sections of The End show the artist grappling with grief and with her own mortality. Stranded is part of the “Extinction” series, a group of works that each depict the plights of individual animals or plants—birds, sea turtles, elephants, frogs, coral, and orchids appear, among others. Chicago uses written text throughout her work to describe the threats that imperil each creature and to issue a plea for compassion. The handwritten text within Stranded underscores the importance and centrality of the polar bear, and it includes a quote from environmental activist Derrick Jensen: “Every creature on the planet must be hoping that…our time of awakening comes soon.”

 —Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Judy Chicago—The End: Mortality

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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On a black background, a nude female figure painted in cool, translucent colors lays on a multicolored block with her hands folded over her chest. Atop her the sentence "Everyone hopes to die peacefully" is painted in cursive print.

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #1, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint and luster 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

When Judy Chicago (b. 1939) first began her research on the topic of death and its representation in art, the artist was struck by societies that have acknowledged life’s inevitable end with awareness and acceptance. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and many American Indian cultures believed that the spirits of the dead continued on—death was merely a change in existence. The Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition can be traced back to Aztec feasts where family members honored their dead and supported their spiritual journey. The Korowai people of Indonesia speak of themselves as being in the process of dying in everyday conversation. Hyolmo Buddhists in Nepal regard dying “as an intricate art to be learned…to ensure a smooth passage into the next life as well as a successful rebirth.” Chicago embarked on The End as a personal exercise in coming to terms with her own fear of death.

In the “Mortality” section, Chicago explores her own death across 20 black glass panels. The figure in each work has the artist’s shock of bright curls and presents a vivid vision of her eventual demise. Chicago, who says she has always been aware of her own mortality, became even more cognizant after a health scare in 2012. The works in this section are rendered in kiln-fired glass paint, an extremely time-consuming and laborious process, with multiple firings needed to achieve the artist’s desired effect. Chicago chose black glass, which is both strong and fragile, because “it seems a perfect metaphor for life.”

Judy Chicago - Sweet Prospect

Judy Chicago, Sweet Prospect, 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 - How Will I Die _9 _A_

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #9, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint, Liquid Bright, and oil 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 - 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 - Title Panel Mortality

Judy Chicago, Title Panel: Mortality, 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

Handwritten text is an integral element in The End. In “Mortality,” Chicago uses writing to both comfort and question. The artist incorporates musings on death from a number of celebrated thinkers including Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Socrates, who once said, “If death is simply the end of our sense, then it is like a long dreamless sleep, and therefore, a sweet prospect.” In startling works that envision possible scenarios surrounding her own death, Chicago asks pointed questions: “Will I die embracing the light?” “Will I die screaming in pain?” Another panel presents synonyms and metaphors for death—demise, release, oblivion, be no more—an exercise in sorting through meaning around this amorphous, unknown, universal experience.

In The End, Chicago intentionally addressed the one subject that most people in Western societies work diligently to avoid: their own impermanence. “As difficult as it was to confront my own mortality, it brought me to a place of acceptance,” Chicago said. “I hope that I will be able to face my end with courage, grace, and humor.”

The Judy Chicago Research Portal: Preserving an Artistic Legacy

Feminist artist Judy Chicago has spent her groundbreaking career teaching and making art that centers her experiences as a woman. As part of Chicago’s efforts to overcome the erasure that has eclipsed the achievements of too many women throughout history, the artist has placed her archives with three institutions: NMWA, the Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America at Harvard University, and Penn State University Libraries.

In a rare collaboration, these institutions have launched The Judy Chicago Research Portal: Learning, Making, Culture, linking the collections and presenting Chicago’s body of work, and the record of its creation, to a global audience.

Judy Chicago, Acknowledgement Panel (from The Dinner Party), 1979; Collection of Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Photo by Donald Woodman, courtesy of Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

Bringing together a museum, a private institutional library, and a public university library allows for the potential of each repository to consider and embrace new audiences and their collective interest in Chicago’s oeuvre and legacy. Chicago’s visual archives are housed at NMWA, her paper archives at the Schlesinger Library, and her art education archives at Penn State. The portal allows users to search selected items from the three collections or search the full repository at each institution.

Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study hosted an event to celebrate the portal’s official launch and introduction. It featured a conversation between Chicago and artist/activist Christina Schlesinger about the importance of archiving women artists’ history and making these resources publicly available in order to ensure their legacies are not erased—or forgotten.

In her research for her landmark installation The Dinner Party (1974–79), Chicago came face to face with the stories of women who had been erased from history. She then struggled to find a permanent home for the work—it was then that Chicago realized that her archive is her legacy. “As important as the work itself is Chicago’s refusal to let it and any understanding of its creation disappear,” wrote Thessaly La Force in the New York Times. “[Archives] are the authority on what or who will remain within the historical narrative.”

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Judy Chicago, 11 year old drawing, 1950; Mixed media on colored paper, 18 x 24 in.; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago, Orange Atmosphere, Brookside Park, Pasadena, California, 1968; Fireworks; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago, Rejection Breakthrough Drawing (from The Rejection Quintet), 1974; Prismacolor and graphite on paper, 40 x 30 in.; Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

10023_Double Clear HandoutHandsoff on stand

Judy Chicago, Double Clear Handout/Handsoff, 2006; Etching and glass paint on clear glass, two glass panels: 18 x 24 x 0.5 in.; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

At NMWA, the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s Archives of Women Artists is dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of women artists. In addition to Chicago’s body of work, the collection includes correspondence from Frida Kahlo, drawings and correspondence by Doris Lee, the palette and brush of Eulabee Dix, printmaking tools used by Grace Albee, the Dulah Evans Krehbiel Card Collection, papers documenting the life and career of feminist artist Anita Steckel, and more.

The Library and Research Center’s digitization of Chicago’s visual archives is ongoing. More than 3,600 items have been processed and uploaded to the portal to date. Items include photographic negatives, contact sheets, and copy prints related to The Dinner Party; slides of Chicago’s early artwork; documentation of her major bodies of work; and copies of her lectures. The collection will grow over time as more materials are received from the artist’s studio. Browse the portal and NMWA’s visual archives.

Power in My Hand: Five Women Artists in Conversation with Emily Dickinson

Since the discovery of almost 1,800 poems after her death in 1886, readers and artists alike have studied, adopted, and celebrated the work of Emily Dickinson. As noted by poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, Dickinson’s work remains relevant in its focus on the feminine and the interior—in the literal sense of the domestic realm and, metaphorically, in the expression of the inner self. Five works in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s exhibition Power in My Hand: Women Poets, Women Artists, and Social Change testify to the enduring legacy of Dickinson’s work.

Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

In Emily Dickinson, a preparatory drawing for a place setting in her renowned installation The Dinner Party (1977), Judy Chicago (b. 1939) emphasized the link between sexuality, empowerment, and liberation using materials and techniques that would have been familiar to Dickinson and her Victorian milieu. Ribbon work references Victorian sewing techniques, while lace simultaneously embodies reticent femininity and oppression, a seemingly delicate fabric hardened and immobile in porcelain.

A tactile exploration of Dickinson’s work continues in the photography of Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949). The artist photographed a white dress of Dickinson’s against a sharp, dark background. This “portrait” of Dickinson opened Leibovitz’s book Pilgrimage, an exploration of the spaces and belongings of individuals she admires. The photograph evokes the same traditional femininity depicted by Chicago, but here the viewer must consider the absent body of the poet.

The delicate collages of multidisciplinary artist Lesley Dill (b. 1950) respond to Dickinson’s work by incorporating the poet’s text within them. In The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes (1992), Dill depicts the visceral experience of language, giving it an interpreted shape made from Japanese silk tissue paper, accented by letterpress, and structured into collage. Dill’s collage is exhibited alongside a group of works that reflect on spirituality, faith, and the nature of the psyche.

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Judy Chicago, Emily Dickinson (preparatory drawing for The Dinner Party), 1977; Mixed media on paper, 23 1/8 x 35 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition fund; © 1977 Judy Chicago; Image by Google

Dickinson Dress

Annie Leibovitz, photograph of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress, from Pilgrimage; Photo by Emily Moore, courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

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Lesley Dill, The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes, 1992; Lithograph with letterpress and collage on paper, 13 1/8 x 18 1/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; © Lesley Dill

Herxheimer-Your Candle

Sophie Herxheimer, poems by Emily Dickinson, Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson, 2017; Artist's book by Henningham Family Press; Photo by Jennifer Page

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Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

Reframing Dickinson’s cloistered life, artist Sophie Herxheimer explored the idea that one can be fixed in space physically, but mobile through imagination and intellect. Her work Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson (2017) was created during a time in her own life when she was “stuck indoors, quite anxious, unable to do much.” Through collages that include Dickinson’s work, Herxheimer’s own poetry, and images cut from a 1930’s book of Swiss tourist photos, the piece demonstrates the creative potency of inspiration and relative isolation.

Printmaker and book artist Sue Huggins Leopard developed an interest in writers and their work, and she began to integrate poetry into her own print projects. She uses the technical process of bookmaking as a way to picture the invisible and embody emotions. Her work Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson (2008) explores and communes with Dickinson’s delight in the “small miracles of nature and being.”

In describing her creative process, Dickinson once wrote, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” In their visual homages to Dickinson, these five artists keep the spirit of Dickinson—and her awe—alive.

—Emily Moore is the archival assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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

5 Fast Facts: Judy Chicago

A portrait of Judy Chicago in 2019; the artist is wearing a blue sequined shirt and jeans, purple short hair, and has her hands on her hips, the background is a tree.

Judy Chicago in 2019; Photo by Donald Woodman

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Judy Chicago (b. 1939), who will celebrate her 80th birthday on July 20. Chicago’s newest body of work, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, will debut at NMWA on September 19 and run through January 20, 2020.

 What’s in a Name?

In 1970, Chicago changed her last name to identify herself as an independent woman, rather than one defined by her father (she was born Judy Cohen) or husband (she took the name Gerowitz on marriage, then was widowed at a young age). Her new moniker was originally a nickname she earned for her strong accent.

Ladies First

Chicago developed the Feminist Art Program at California State University at Fresno in 1970—it was the first program of its kind in the United States. After she and Miriam Schapiro (1923–2015) moved the program to the California Institute of the Arts, they led 21 students in developing Womanhouse (1971).

Her Story

Under Chicago’s direction, more than 400 people contributed to The Dinner Party (1974–9). The final installation features a triangular dining table, 39 place settings representing extraordinary historical women, and an additional 999 named on the Heritage Floor.

In this black and white photo, Judy Chicago addresses a gathering of volunteers in the Dinner Party studio, ca. 1978.

Judy Chicago addresses a gathering of volunteers in The Dinner Party studio, ca. 1978; Photograph by Amy Meadow; Judy Chicago Visual Archive, Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Cat Lady

For four and a half years, Chicago researched the history, physiology, and psychology of cats while rendering her own family of felines in watercolor. In Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours, Chicago’s illustrations portray each hour of a day and are interspersed with “Feline Facts.”

In Her Own Words

Interested in more than five facts? Chicago is also the author of several books, including two autobiographies: Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist and Beyond the Flower: The Autobiography of a Feminist Artist.

—Ashley Harris is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.