In this interview with Judy Chicago, the artist discusses a book she wrote with art historian Frances Borzello about the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Chicago describes the project as an effort to assert Kahlo’s place in an otherwise “male centered” art history. She describes a systematic erasure of female painters from the “mainstream narrative” art history such that only 3-5% of the works in permanent museum collections were executed by female artists and only 2.5% of solo publications concern female artists. While reviewing the existing literature on Kahlo, Chicago was aggravated to find that many authors interpreted Kahlo’s paintings as reactions to events in her relationship with her husband Diego Rivera. To counter this view of female artists as always “re-active,” Chicago and Borzello set out to consider the full body of Kahlo’s work outside of conventional art historical concerns. By addressing Kahlo as an artist with agency and self-direction, Chicago reveals aspects of art and art-making that are generally kept invisible.
Who was Frida Kahlo? Who is Judy Chicago? What do these two women have in common?
What does it mean for art history to be “male centered”? What conditions would lead to such small representation of female artists in museum collections? How do paintings end up in museums? Who selects them? How are they arranged on the walls?
Chicago says that women artists have often been remembered as always reacting to the behavior of men in their lives. Men, on the other hand, are rarely remembered this way. Can you think of other well-known women who are treated as “re-active”? Can you think of women who are consistently treated as having “agency”?
Chicago says that the art world has changed over the past few decades because many more women are exhibiting artists today than were in the early 20th century. And yet, she says, there has not been “institutional” change. What is the difference between these two types of changes? Which type of change is more long-lasting?