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Judy Chicago: Cohanim

Aug 5, 2021–Jan 2, 2022

Judy Chicago: Cohanim, a solo exhibition by inimitable artist Judy Chicago, features twelve vibrant paintings on porcelain that explore and reflect on the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. Chicago, who has led the contemporary art field in feminist practice for decades, created this body of work as a personal tribute to these lyrics and what they have meant to her throughout her life. In their colorful, spare, and painterly interpretations of Cohen’s songs, these works express a sense of intimacy and heartfelt spiritual connection. In Chicago’s words, “Leonard Cohen’s lyrics often seemed to perfectly express my feelings at various points in my life… I am so deeply moved by the rhythms that inform his music, perhaps because of our shared lineage. He is the grandson of a Talmudic scholar and I am descended from twenty-three generations of rabbis.”

The title Cohanim is at once a literal reference to Leonard Cohen’s surname, an indirect reference to Chicago’s shared given surname (born Judith Sylvia Cohen), and a reference to the lineage of male Jewish Levitical priests collectively known as Cohanim. Cohen is Hebrew for “priest,” and Cohanim are believed to be of direct patrilineal descent from Aaron, the first Jewish priest and brother of Moses. Chicago’s gesture to her own given name alongside Leonard Cohen and the priestly brotherhood—one she electively abandoned to liberate herself from the patriarchal tradition of surnames passed down exclusively by men or acquired through marriage—challenges the erasure of women in patriarchal structures.

This feminist act of reclamation speaks to Chicago’s radical body of work. Using the medium of ceramics in Cohanim as a means to commemorate icons of the past hearkens back to the artist’s groundbreaking masterpiece, The Dinner Party (1974–79), widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork. In addition to her work’s celebrated feminist themes, Chicago has often responded to Jewish subjects, most notably in The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (1985-93), a collaboration with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman.

Part of the exhibition series Experience Leonard Cohen

Judy Chicago: Cohanim is presented at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) in the context of the exhibition series Experience Leonard Cohen, organized at The CJM by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator, and Justin Limoges, Director of Exhibitions.

Exhibition Preview
About The artist
Headshot of Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago (b. 1939, Chicago, IL) is an artist and author of fourteen books which will be amplified by the 2021 publication by Thames and Hudson of The Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago with an Introduction by Gloria Steinem. Her career spans almost six decades during which time she has produced a prodigious body of art that has been exhibited all over the world. In the 1970's, she pioneered feminist art and feminist art education in a series of programs in southern California. She is best known for her monumental The Dinner Party, executed between 1974–79, now permanently housed as the centerpiece of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Her work is in numerous collections and her ongoing influence continues to be acknowledged worldwide—in 2018 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and Artsy magazine’s most influential artists. In 2019, she received the Visionary Woman Award from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and was an honoree at the annual Hammer Museum Gala in Los Angeles. In 2020 she was honored by the Museum of Arts and Design at their annual MAD Ball, and in 2021 she will be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Chicago’s first retrospective will open on August 28, 2021 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

About Experience Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s words gave voice to the human condition, in all of its grace and imperfection—and to this day, they continue to inspire generations of artists, musicians, and writers. This inspiration is at the heart of Experience Leonard Cohen: a series of four solo exhibitions that present immersive and intimate artworks by contemporary artists George Fok, Judy Chicago, Candice Breitz, and Marshall Trammell, all inspired by the life and work of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), the influential musician, man of letters, and global icon from Montréal, Canada.

A black-and-white photo of Leonard Cohen sitting on a train, holding an open book

Courtesy Old Ideas, LLC

Supporters

Lead sponsorship of Experience Leonard Cohen is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) thanks Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Suzanne and Elliott Felson, the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Irving and Eleanor Jaffe Foundation, Taube Philanthropies, Kendra and Tom Kasten, Jessica Silverman, and Meyer Sound for generously supporting the exhibition. 

Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle. In-kind support is provided by Where the Buffalo Roam.

The CJM thanks Jessica Silverman, San Francisco, for their support of the exhibition.

Image Credit

Header image: Judy Chicago, Bird on a Wire 2, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photo: Donald Woodman