Judy Chicago’s The Birth Project from New Mexico Collections, opens at the Harwood Museum of Art on June 2nd.
The Birth Project was created in the 1980s in collaboration with 150 needle workers after Chicago observed the absence of iconography about the subject of birth in Western art. She designed and executed dozens of pieces that incorporated painting and needlework to explore and celebrate the various dimensions of the birth process.
The Birth Project pieces in the Harwood’s exhibition are drawn from several collections, including the University of New Mexico Art Museum, Through the Flower, (Judy Chicago’s non-profit, feminist art organization), the Albuquerque Museum, and the Harwood Museum of Art’s own collection.
The Harwood Museum has long been a destination museum for art lovers visiting Taos. Among its most important collections are a permanent installation of works (in the Agnes Martin Gallery), by abstract painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004), and the Death Shrine 1 ceramic sculpture by Ken Price (1935-2012). Both artists were longtime Taos residents. The museum collects and exhibits art by the Taos Society of Artists and the Taos Moderns as well as traditional Hispanic religious art and works by living New Mexico artists.
This exhibition, opening on June 2, 2019, and on view through November 10, 2019, is especially noteworthy since this is the first time these New Mexico institutions have collaborated to present a selection of Birth Project works never before seen together. Additionally, this exhibition is significant because Chicago has been a Belen, New Mexico resident since the 1980s.
When Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova proposed a museum in the town, honoring the work of its most famous resident, several residents opposed the idea, claiming that Chicago’s work, which has included representations of genitalia in the past, was too controversial for their town, and the plans to work directly with the city were scrapped. However, Through the Flower has begun planning to open an Art Space independently from the city due to the considerable support the proposed project has received from both the local community and art patrons throughout the state.
“This is a serendipitous moment for an exhibition of Birth Project pieces in New Mexico,” said well-known art critic Lucy Lippard, also a New Mexico resident. “This is a moment when the world is belatedly recognizing Chicago’s art and when the debate on women’s control over their own bodies is current.
Judy Chicago has lived in New Mexico for decades and is the recipient of a Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Since the late 1960s she has been at the forefront of the feminist art movement. Chicago’s ongoing representation and interpretation of the role of women in society throughout history, has been the focus of her work. From The Dinner Party (1979), to the Birth Project, and well as her series, PowerPlay, which confronts the constructs of masculinity, Chicago continues to explore controversial and provocative subject matter including the Holocaust, mortality, and extinction.
The pieces from Birth Project, now in their fourth decade have lost none of their early impact.
“It is interesting to me that the work seems as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago when I first created it,” says Chicago. Her insight into the cultural, historical, and individual power of childbirth is shown through her observation that birth “is how we all arrive in the world.”
Chicago was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, one of the most influential artists of 2018 by Artsy.com, and called “The Godmother” of feminist art by the New York Times T Magazine in the February 2018 issue, where she was featured on the cover.
For over six decades, she has remained committed to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change and to women’s right to engage in the highest level of the Arts through freedom of expression.
Judy Chicago: the Birth Project from New Mexico Collections is a perfect opportunity for New Mexicans and visitors to Taos alike, to view one of Chicago’s most important works.
“I have always loved Taos,” says Chicago. “I have many friends there, notably, Janet Webb, who designed the Birth Project book, and my old pal, Larry Bell.”
Judy Chicago: the Birth Project, from New Mexico Collections opens June 2 and runs through November 10, 2019 at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.
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Written by Lynne Robinson
Image: Judy Chicago, Birth from the Birth Project, 1984, Filet Crochet, Executed by Dolly Kaminski, 94 x 225 in.© Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), thanks to The Harwood Museum of Art.