Chicago in London – remember Judy?

A long time ago – I think it was in 1984 – I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago when it was on its world tour. It was in Islington when I saw it – a giant Triangular Dining table for a proposed dinner for Great Women dead and alive, some you’d heard of some you hadn’t. Although I might have put that down to parochialism on my part rather than paternalism. I went with three girls, and I was surprise surprise the only man there.

It was memorable and thought provoking. I even remember reading her autobiographical book ‘Through the Flower’ in what now seems an excess of enthusiasm and open mindedness. She was and no doubt remains passionate and articulate although I recoil from the didactic and she certainly is that. In the book she recalls some of her early work spray painting abstract vagina like forms on car bonnets in an attempt to (I don’t really have the lingo down) expropriate the most macho tools for feminist imagery. I was intrigued, but never imagined I would see any of them. Maybe she has been making some more, or maybe there were more than I remember she said because there are some in London right now.

I was down in Beak Street at Lunchtime, dodging the rain. As I was passing what used to be Wilkes the gunmakers I noticed her name in the window. Everything in Soho seems to have turned into either an art gallery or a coffee shop. I shouldn’t complain because I like art and coffee, and it’s probably better to buy art and coffee than guns. But still, a pang for Wilkes which was a real gun shop in the heart of the West End (as opposed to the ones where city ponces buy £50000 shotguns). It is now the Riflemaker Gallery, for this show at least. It retains a bit of its original charm (they haven’t done it up much) and it’s nice to go in. Although I had to ring the bell. But I digress.

Having heard nothing of Judy since the 80s, it was quite a surprise to see a small gallery full of spray painted car bonnets. And they looked cool. Not didactic at all. Just very cool – in the sense of abstract classicism vs ‘hot’ expressionism, as well as in the vernacular sense. They would hang well next to more bankable names such as Frank Stella or any of the now forgotten (by me anyway) NeoGeo painters of the late 80s. The curved surface of the bonnets is seductive and disrupts the flatness of the designs with ‘sexy’ curves and highlights – making for a nice conceptual tension with their original purpose. All round very satisfying and a nice surprise on a wet wednesday. Not sure where I stand on the  ‘issues’; but whatever gets you going, Judy, is all right with me.


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