Artwork Description

Judy Chicago – On Fire

Dimensions: 21 x 25″
Year: 2009-12
Media: two films, and twelve mixed media prints
Edition: ed. 10

Judy Chicago’s “On Fire” is a part of her “Atmospheres” series. In 1968, several years after she graduated from the MFA program at UCLA, Chicago had begun the series as an exercise. In the first iteration, she used smoke machines to cloak a Pasadena street in a shroud of ethereal white mist. “It softened everything,” she recalls of the vapor’s effects. “There was a moment when the smoke began to clear, but a haze lingered. And the whole world was feminized—if only for a moment.”

“The title Immolation and the cross-legged pose of the nude figure bring to mind a famous photograph of the Buddhist monk Thích Qu?ng Ð?c, who self-immolated to protest the South Vietnamese government in 1963. Other monks and American peace activists later repeated his radical act. The colorful smoke in Immolation might also evoke the war’s “rainbow herbicides”–most notoriously, Agent Orange–used by U.S. forces to defoliate combat zones. Chicago created Immolation when she led the country’s first feminist art programs, initially at Fresno State College and then at CalArts.” Smithsonian Institution

Unlike the actions of some of her male peers who would excavate and/or destroy landscapes to create their art, Chicago’s interventions in the natural world didn’t involve any destruction of the landscape. Rather, they softened it and highlighted its beauty. At times, the smoke acted like a curtain, slowly lifting to reveal the stunning landscape behind it. At others, it curled across the environment’s curves and grooves, emphasizing its elegant and varied contours.

In “On Fire,” a woman sits in the middle of burning flares that emit deep orange smoke. It is a reference to sati, an Indian ritual of immolation where a wife is burned along with her husband on his funeral pyre. In this image, however, the woman sits aside the flames and looks away from flames, reclaiming her power and choice.

Judy Chicago’s artworks are found in the permanent collections of the world’s top museums. Gloria Steinem, upon introducing her long time friend as she was being honored by the Hammer Museum, famously said she could define art history as before and after Judy Chicago. There are numerous monographs and books about Judy Chicago, including the most recent monograph published by National Museum of Women in the Arts. Art historians and curators can search the Judy Chicago Portal, which combines her archives at Harvard, Penn State, and National Museum of Women in the Arts.  In 2020 Judy Chicago completed a widely acclaimed collaboration with Dior Couture in Paris, in which her Female Divine monumental sculpture was erected outside the Rodin Museum in Paris and housed her banners posing the question “What if Women Ruled the World?” Read more about why Dior invited her to collaborate with them.