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Judy Chicago Sales Catch Up With Acclaim

Judy Chicago has enjoyed a high-profile career and numerous major museum exhibitions for more than 25 years, but only recently have sales of individual works by the artist begun to pick up, her dealers say.

NEW YORK—Judy Chicago has enjoyed a high-profile career and numerous major museum exhibitions for more than 25 years, but only recently have sales of individual works by the artist begun to pick up, her dealers say.

“Things have been changing,” Dorian Bergen, vice president of ACA Galleries, New York, told ARTnewsletter. Bergen attributes that change to “historical perspective.” The gallery’s upcoming survey exhibition (Oct. 14–Nov. 27) will feature 30 works in six different media made over the course of the artist’s 45-year career. These include three 60-by-60-inch acrylic paintings from the 1970s—part of the artist’s “Pasadena Lifesaver” series—that will be offered only as a set, priced at $250,000, as well as painted porcelain plates that were preliminary studies for Chicago’s most famous work—the installation The Dinner Party, 1974–79, which is now in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum. The plates are priced in the range of $200,000/250,000 each.

The show will also include colored-pencil and gouache drawings, priced at $15,000/40,000; mixed-media on fabric works, some from her series “The Birth Project,” with prices of $200,000/300,000 apiece; bronze sculptures, priced at $75,000/100,000, and glass sculptures, priced at $30,000/150,000.

ACA has represented Chicago since 1984. “There has always been a lot of demand for exhibitions of her work,” Bergen said. Buying, however, has been slower: “We traveled The Dinner Party all over the world in the 1980s, and, at one exhibition site after another, there were lines of women—mostly women—waiting to get in. Unfortunately, while we sold thousands of books and posters, we didn’t sell a lot of works.” As a result, the artist found it necessary to pursue college teaching and grant or fellowship applications for many years.

This fall, Chicago’s work will also be featured in exhibitions at two New York museums: The Jewish Museum, where her work will be featured in “Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism,” (Sept. 12–Jan. 30), and The Hebrew Union College Museum, where it will be on view as part of the show “A Stitch in Jewish Time” (through Jan. 30). Meanwhile, the Musée des Maitres et Artisans du Québec, Montreal, will be displaying 20 works by the artist in the show “Chicago in Glass” (Sept. 22–Jan. 9), while the Evansville Museum in Indiana is showing 39 preparatory drawings, 6 test plates and 15 mixed-media works on paper in the exhibition “Setting the Table: Preparing Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party” (through Dec. 2).

This month, Chicago (with British art historian Frances Borzello) is publishing the book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face (Prestel), which is a conversation between the two about the realm of women’s experience as reflected in a series of portraits by the Mexican artist.

Chicago’s early work, dating from 1965 to 1973, consists of two- and three-dimensional abstract pieces in a minimalist vein, but she took center stage in the art world with The Dinner Party, which became a canonical work of feminist art. Comprising 39 pieces of painted dinnerware with floral and vulval motifs laid out on a triangular table with 48-foot-long sides, with each place setting representing a notable historical or mythical woman from Western history, The Dinner Party is considered one of the most controversial works of Postwar art.

Much of the artist’s work has been created in series, such as her “Birth Project” (1980–85), which focused on the lack of references in Western art to the subject of childbirth; “Powerplay” (1978–82), which looked at the construction of masculinity; the “Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light” (1985–93) and “Resolutions: A Stitch in Time” (1994–2000).

In addition to ACA Galleries, Chicago has also been represented for a number of years by LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe, which last summer exhibited 28 portrait busts from her series “The Toby Heads.” According to a spokesperson for the gallery, there were a number of sales ranging in price “from the lower five figures through the mid six figures.”

Chicago’s work rarely appears at auction. “People who own her work don’t want to sell it,” Bergen said. The top public sale price for her work is $288,000, paid in 2007 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions for Car Hood, 1964, a spray-painted Corvette hood (estimate: $150,000/200,000). The work was purchased by the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden.

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