Judy Chicago at 80 can boast a long and active career in the art world, yet in a recent interview posted by Hyperallergic, she sounds as angry as she did when I interviewed her in 1996 - as if an unrecognized wanna be. And as her latest show "A meditation on death and distinction" suggests. her time is running out.

Critical mass

Granted, she's taken a lot of hits from critics - me, included. While best known for the installation The Dinner Party, a vulva-shaped table with place settings for notable women in history, Chicago got a thumbs-down in 1980 from New York Times critic Hilton Kramer, who classed her work "very bad art." Lest you suspect Kramer of chauvinism, Roberta Smith writing for the same newspaper in 2002 also panned The Dinner Party and with a similar opinion: "Its historic import and social significance may be greater than its aesthetic value."

People's choice

Reviews like that from leading art critics should have buried The Dinner Party, but they didn't.

According to an Artnet News report in 2017, 1.5 million had seen the work on tour in six countries on three continents before it landed in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum, hailing Chicago as "an important artist." Even so, in an interview with Hyperallergic, she spoke of a hurt that occurred in the '60s when she created a piece called " Rainbow Picket" - an abstract, room-size installation of different lengths of plywood covered with vari-colored canvas. Apparently, she couldn't persuade Walter Hopps, a renowned curator, to consider it.

Never mind that she landed a show for this work in 1966 at the Jewish Museum in New York that New York Times critic Clement Greenberg singled out as one of the best works there. And when it showed in 2004 at the Los Angelos Museum of Contemporary Art, it became the signature image for the show.

Female complaint

Nevertheless, when I interviewed Chicago in 1996, she sounded bitter when it came to art critics: "The most vitriolic and hostile writing is by women." I had the sense she was directing the remark at me.

work. Faulting female critics as the most critical was surprising when I remembered L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight's walloping words about The Dinner Party. On seeing it in an L.A. museum, he wrote, "You want to run screaming from the room."

'Reviving Ophelia'

Of course, bad reviews can be tough to take. But Chicago got some good ones, too. I'm thinking of Lucy Lippard, author of 20 books on art writing in 1981 that her reaction to The Dinner Party "was strongly emotional...The longer I spent with the piece, the more I became addicted to its intricate detail and hidden meaning." It was odd, then, that Chicago disregarded the harsh words of Knight and Kramer and conclude those female critics were the harshest and figured out why.

She knew why after reading 'Reviving Ophelia" by Mary Piper, which describes girls who don't fit in suffering "scapegoating" by other girls. I'll give Chicago the last word here: "I decided that's basically what this (disdain by female critics) is."

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