Chicago in Glass

The works of acclaimed American artist Judy Chicago (born Judy Cohen) are back in Montreal. It is quite a coup getting her exhibit here as she is one of the most important and influential artists in modern art. Last night for the vernissage of her exhibit entitled "Chicago in Glass" the artist herself was also on hand (for the first time in Quebec) to meet the public and sign some autographs. The exhibit is an important part of the International Year of Glass within the art community.

Judy Chicago is a feminist artist who is probably best known for her 1979 work entitled "The Dinner Party". This work was a three-sided dinner table with place settings for 39 women that Judy Chicago found most influential/powerful/interesting. The women were selected from mythology (goddesses) and history (fellow female artist Georgia O'Keefe and writer Virginia Woolf). Very controversial as it involved some highly sexual images and was even banned as pornography in different places, when this work came to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1982 it became one of the most popular exhibits throughout the museum's history.

Always interested in turning the spotlight on women and female artists, Chicago came to prominence in the 1970s. Chicago wanted female artists to join their male contemporaries at the center of the art world. She has worked as an artist for upwards of 50 years.

All of her works contains social messages. One of her most prominent messages is the idea or desire to bring all different people and cultures together. This message of unity was the reason that the Musée des Maitres et Artisans du Quebec wanted to bring her latest exhibit to town.

The 17 pieces within this exhibit were all created from 2003 onwards in the glass artisanal space owned by the Dobbins family of New Mexico. The pieces are all focused on the human arm, hand and head. The focus of the work is the symbolic nature of these parts of the body and the juxtaposition between the strength and fragility of them. Though all done in glass they involve sculpture, painting, engraving, and moulding. The works have been fused in different layers, carved, painted, and finally fired.

The use of glass in the pieces allows Chicago to depict the strength inherent in the hand and arm. The power is further amplified depending on the gesture they are doing. It illustrates how emotion and meaning can be conveyed through a simple gesture. Using glass also gives us a view of what is underneath the skin into the inner workings of the hand/arm. Each image has layers, like the skin peeled back on some of the pieces, of meanings.

Several other pieces are flat crystal clear glass panels that have been carved then painted and finally fired. Several are of the hand and arm, but one depicts one of Chicago's reoccurring images of the most female part of the anatomy depicted as a flower. The bright purples and pinks used really compliment the clearness of the glass and seem to explode off of it. All the pieces in the exhibit have that kind of vibrancy that you have come to expect from Judy Chicago.

Finally the 4 glass pieces of a male head are tragically beautiful. The tragedy comes from the fact that the male model of these pieces was a friend of Chicago's that was going through a battle with cancer at the time he was posing. His bald head makes him seem all that more vulnerable.

Chicago first started working with glass for her Holocaust Project: From Darkness Into Light, which was started during the mid-80s. The biggest and most moving piece of that exhibit is part of Chicago in Glass. The "Rainbow Shabbat" (4.5 feet high and 16 feet wide) is placed behind the altar of this building that used to be a Catholic church. During the day the light streams through the piece that is based on the Jewish idea of repairing the world making it quite a sight to behold.

Some mention must be made of the museum itself. The Musée des Maitres et Artisans du Quebec is housed in a 19th century church in the city of St. Laurent. The church is beautiful and the architecture is grand. Around the edges of the large room you can also see their permanent collection at the same time.

Additional Information:
-Website: www.mmaq.qc.ca
-Venue: 615 Ste. Croix
-Hours: Wednesday-Thursday: 12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

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