Fragments from the Delta of Venus by Judy Chicago (Powerhouse Books), 103 pages, $39 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Judy Chicago is best known as the creator of heroic feminist art with a capital V.
Her massive installation The Dinner Party, unveiled in 1979, featured a triangular table measuring 48 feet on a side, set with 39 ceramic plates, each with its own butterfly/vulva motif, honouring women in history. It was instantly controversial. One male member of congress from California described it as 3-D pornography, the art world sniffed that it was banal kitsch, and some feminists decried the "essentialism" of her vaginal imagery.
Given her status as a highly visible feminist artist of the California 1970s, it's only natural that she feels indebted to another controversial feminist icon: Anaís Nin. Chicago's new book, Fragments From The Delta Of Venus, features watercolour illustrations of Nin's work.
The volume is Chicago's way of honouring Nin as a generous friend who gave her the courage to make woman-centred art. The imagery is explicit and pretty, sometimes verging on abstraction or morphing into lush natural images. Each painting and quote is bedded between pearly pink fly-leaves, lending them an air of French boudoir discretion that is pure Nin. She was French, after all.
Part historic memoir, pillow book and firebrand 70s feminism - and released just in time for Valentine's Day - Fragments places Nin within a larger art-historical discourse.
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