Judy Chicago’s ‘PowerPlay: A Prediction' at Salon 94

Socially and politically contested times are often marked by powerful moments in visual culture.

The creative dialogue that emerges in response to significant shifts in societal paradigms are markedly brash, poignant and vital. Art reflects a particular moment in time, but can also encourage debate and take on further layers of meaning long after its making. 

The current exhibition at Salon 94 in the Lower East Side of works by celebrated feminist artist, Judy Chicago, is a prime example of this very inherent value of art. Emerging out of the complex climate of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s where the social discourse was significantly preoccupied with gender inequality and racial discrimination, Chicago’s works are as poignant today as they were then. 

Chicago is best known for her large-scale installation ‘The Dinner Party’ (1974-79) currently on permanent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Comprising of a massive ceremonial banquet of thirty-nine place settings arranged on a triangular table, the place settings consist of painted porcelain plates with central motifs based on vulvar and butterfly forms that commemorate important women in history. Chicago has since explored a variety of artistic mediums including minimalist sculpture, ceramics and performance art.

 Judy Chicago -  Rainbow Man , 1984, sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian linen, overall framed dimensions: 109 1/2 x 255 3/4 x 2 inches (278.1 x 649.6 x 5.1 cm). Image courtesy Salon 94.

Judy Chicago - Rainbow Man, 1984, sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian linen, overall framed dimensions: 109 1/2 x 255 3/4 x 2 inches (278.1 x 649.6 x 5.1 cm). Image courtesy Salon 94.

‘PowerPlay’ is a body of work created between 1982 and 1987 that examines the gender construct of masculinity and the prevailing definitions of power in society. The exhibition presents four monumental paintings by the artist that situate the male body as its primary subject matter. Using the visual language of Russian propaganda, hard-edged male features and muscular bodies, Chicago presents her technicolour male protagonists as fallen heroes - drunk with patriarchal power and engaged in eerily crude and destructive acts. Awash in hues of a rainbow, colours usually associated with peace, purity and hope, the expressions and gestures of the figures are a powerful comment on the kind of male dominance that prevailed during that time, and continues to form part of our current dialogue on the abuses of power today. 

 Judy Chicago -  Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality , 1983, Sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian Linen, framed dimensions: 109 1/2 x 73 1/2 x 2 inches. Image courtesy Salon 94.

Judy Chicago - Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality, 1983, Sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian Linen, framed dimensions: 109 1/2 x 73 1/2 x 2 inches. Image courtesy Salon 94.

 Judy Chicago -  Woe/Man with Burning Throat #10 , 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 59 5/8 x 47 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (151.4 x 120.7 x 14.3 cm) (left). Judy Chicago -  Woe/Man with Blue Eye #9 , 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 58 3/4 x 46 3/4 x 5 5/8 inches (149.2 x 118.7 x 14.3 cm) (centre). Judy Chicago -  Woe/Woe Bloody Man #8 , 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 60 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 5 5/8 inches (154.6 x 120 x 14.3 cm) (right). Image courtesy Salon 94.

Judy Chicago - Woe/Man with Burning Throat #10, 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 59 5/8 x 47 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (151.4 x 120.7 x 14.3 cm) (left). Judy Chicago - Woe/Man with Blue Eye #9, 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 58 3/4 x 46 3/4 x 5 5/8 inches (149.2 x 118.7 x 14.3 cm) (centre). Judy Chicago - Woe/Woe Bloody Man #8, 1986, sprayed acrylic and oil on hand-cast paper, framed dimensions: 60 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 5 5/8 inches (154.6 x 120 x 14.3 cm) (right). Image courtesy Salon 94.

 Judy Chicago -  In the Shadow of the Handgun 2 , 1983, Prismacolor and acrylic on rag paper, framed dimensions: 25 5/8 x 33 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches (65.1 x 85.1 x 4.1 cm) (left). Judy Chicago -  Study for In the Shadow of the Handgun , 1983, Prismacolor and acrylic on rag paper, framed dimensions: 25 5/8 x 33 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches (65.1 x 85.1 x 4.1 cm) (right). Image courtesy Salon 94.

Judy Chicago - In the Shadow of the Handgun 2, 1983, Prismacolor and acrylic on rag paper, framed dimensions: 25 5/8 x 33 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches (65.1 x 85.1 x 4.1 cm) (left). Judy Chicago - Study for In the Shadow of the Handgun, 1983, Prismacolor and acrylic on rag paper, framed dimensions: 25 5/8 x 33 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches (65.1 x 85.1 x 4.1 cm) (right). Image courtesy Salon 94.

The paintings, while almost three decades old, resonate loudly with the current national debate around the injustices that remain within our contemporary society, and the ever-important role that art plays in contributing to that discourse.