It seems only fitting that Judy Chicago would partner with Maria Grazia Chiuri to realize “The Female Divine”—the artistic backdrop for Dior’s goddess-inspired Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 collection. Chiuri, the first female designer to helm the house of Dior, made her inaugural mark as creative director with her “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirts—a nod to Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—in 2016. She has since incorporated references to female artists and authors into many collections, recently teaming with British artist Penny Slinger for the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019 show and New York artist Mickalene Thomas for Cruise 2020. Her new project with Chicago follows previous collaborations between Dior and other artists like Grace Wales Bonner, Bianca Pucciarelli Menna, Linda Nochlin, and more.
Chiuri’s pairing with Chicago for this project is truly a feminine tour de force. Chicago, a feminist pioneer herself, shook the ’70s art world with her revolutionary installation, “The Dinner Party,” now on permanent display at New York’s Brooklyn Museum. A triangular table set for 39 influential female figures in history with 999 more significant women’s names on tile work, the masterpiece traces from Roman goddesses and patron saints of antiquity to the modern likes of Virginia Woolf and Georgia O’Keeffe. A forerunner in collaborative, female vision, “The Dinner Party” established Chicago’s progressive vantage as a key voice in the arts.
Now, four decades later, the artist and kindred spirit Chiuri extend the ideas of “The Dinner Party” in a contemporary work of empowered femininity, “The Female Divine.” Set in the gardens of Paris’ Musée Rodin, the evocative art piece—a goddess homage that Chicago has long envisioned—takes immense, anthropomorphic form. Inflating to nearly 50 feet high and 225 feet long, the architectural work boasts a white monochrome exterior and an interior adorned with 21 velvet banners amid glowing, golden lighting. Each symbolic hanging poses a thoughtful, provocative question: What if women ruled the world? Would God be female? Would the Earth be protected?
Alluding to Chicago’s former masterwork, there is also a table set with homewares that display her signature goddess-themed spiral and shell illustrations. Conceptually, the artwork offers an alternative history as seen through a matriarchal lens. “Femininity and creativity have a paradoxical relationship: I wished to place this question at the center of my collection,” Chiuri tells CR. “As a key player of the feminist art movement, Judy Chicago was the artist I wanted to have this conversation with.”
The revolutionary Chicago—whose hair is tinted purple to match the artwork’s woven runway, ornamented by one thousand flowers—is as forward-minded today as she was in establishing her art practice more than 50 years ago. Here, she speaks with CR about transcending conventions and expectations in the art world, why she views fashion as a vocal platform for women, and how this project became a pinnacle of her career.
How did you design “The Female Divine” to reflect goddess virtues?
“Bureau Betak made an inflatable goddess structure based on a sculpture I designed in the 1970s and never had the opportunity to build. Viewers will literally walk into the body of the goddess and the viewers and the models will be enveloped in the warm, golden light of her divinity.”
Why was the house of Dior the right partner for this project?
“Our collaboration is complex and involves countless people. I proposed a concept to Maria: the Divine Female, as I have long been interested in transforming the ways in which women are viewed—and in fact, many women view themselves as secondary to men.
The catwalk will be a huge carpet with a mille fleurs motif harking back to the Courts of Love, where women ruled the heart and helped men (often returning from the Crusades) re-assimilate to social conventions. I provided Maria with a lot of historical imagery related to the various goddesses of early times, which she and her team expanded on using the imagery as the basis for brilliant dress designs that premiere in this setting, against the backdrop that I—with the help of my talented husband, the photographer Donald Woodman—have provided.”
Chiuri has long been an advocate for female equality. How do you feel that fashion can empower women?
“I had never thought a lot about haute couture before this project, but I quickly realized that—just as art objects are icons of value that are passed from one century to another and shape the values of society—haute couture also shapes values, particularly as they pertain to women. In preparation for this project, in addition to researching the history of fashion in general and the role of Dior specifically, I read a lot of feminist critique about fashion and how it has oppressed women. I was curious to know if this could be changed; if fashion can empower women. In this, I believe that Maria and I are aligned. I was particularly impressed that she decided to have my banners embroidered by a school in India that is training women to be professional embroiderers. This is a perfect example of how fashion can have a positive effect in the world, on the clothes that are designed and the ways in which couture is presented. It is to Dior and Maria’s credit that haute couture and social change come together like this.”
The Female Divine is on view through January 26, 2020 in the garden of the Musée Rodin in Paris.END
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