Feminist Artist Judy Chicago Confronts Aging and Death

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint, pen work, and luster on porcelain
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

Aging and death are uncomfortable topics in our society, but they don’t need to be. “The End,” a new exhibition by feminist artist Judy Chicago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, addresses this discomfort head-on, confronting mortality both as a personal reflection and a universal human experience. In a culture increasingly focused on youth and beauty, Chicago’s work offers a different way of thinking about mortality, showing how environments have been damaged by human actions.

“‘The End: A Meditation On Death And Extinction’ extends my exploration of two painful subjects in which I have long been interested—the denial our society practices about the subject of death and our relationship with and treatment of other species and the planet. But I have never shied away from tackling challenging subject matter,” Chicago says.

Judy Chicago by Donald Woodman
Judy Chicago, 2019. Photo courtesy of Donald Woodman.
Stranded, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2016
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
Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression
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

“Stages of Dying,” a piece executed in china paint on white porcelain, depicts a nude woman moving through the five stages of grief. Though somewhat androgynous, the figure expresses an archetypal “everywoman” who will eventually have to contend with death. A significant departure from the idealized way female nudes are generally depicted, the figure acts as an antithesis to stereotypes of femininity and beauty.

Since launching her career in the 1970s, Chicago has worked frequently with painted porcelain, having created the iconic installation “The Dinner Party” with a team of volunteers in 1974. The long-term installation is on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

Throughout her career, Chicago has also frequently worked with embroidery and glass, reframing the associations these materials have with femininity by challenging existing notions of gender.

“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 premiere 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 End” is on view from September 19, 2019 through January 20, 2020 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, (NMWA) in Washington D.C.

Smothered by 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
Smuggled by 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
How Will I Die? #8 by 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