Feminist Icon Judy Chicago on Aging, Makeup, and “Gratuitous Beauty”

Artist Judy Chicago sees the world through colored lenses. Literally—sometimes lilac, sometimes pink, many shades of blue—but never the standard clear. 

“Actually, the world doesn’t look different with these on,” the artist shares over Zoom from her New Mexico studio (today’s shades are deep hue of purpley-navy). “I’ve worn glasses my entire life and since color is the hallmark of my work, this just made sense.” 

Chicago is seated in front of photograph of her “Atmospheres” air-and-smoke sculpture, which was part of her 2021 show at San Francisco’s de Young Museum as we talk. This week, her solo retrospective named “Judy Chicago: Her Story” opened at New York City’s New Museum. It’s three-floors dedicated to the artist’s six-decade, multi-medium, always-colorful career—one she describes as filled with “gratuitous beauty.”

“For most of my life, I had the standard feminist view of fashion, beauty, and makeup,” Chicago says. “I thought that it was oppressive to women. But my entire thinking changed quite dramatically as a result of my collaboration with Dior.”

In 2019, Chicago began a collaboration with Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri, which brought to life an unrealized project of hers from the ’70s named The Female Divine (2020) for the Couture spring 2020 show. “I remember sitting in my first couture show thinking ‘If I’m a serious artist, what would I have to do with couture?’” But Chiuri’s continual focus on women (“her history of hiring female photographers and women across the world to support them”) that helped Chicago find her place and discover that art, fashion, and beauty not only all intersect, but actually belong together. 

“When I was young, I didn’t have a beauty routine,” Chicago says. “I never even thought about it! All I was focused on was working in my studio, sometimes 60 hours a week. But the older you get, it becomes more about patching things back to the way they were. Patch, patch, patch.” 

Chicago’s current routine consists of skincare from Biodroga, Yon-Ka, and Dermalogica, spritzes of Dior’s iconic Poison perfume, and M.A.C.’s matte lipstick in shade Smoked Purple. “Now that I’m old, lipstick is essential, it makes me feel bright.”

At her New Museum exhibit, Chicago continues to ask an important question from The Female Divine—“What if women ruled the world?”—and declares if they want a spritz of this or a swipe of that, so be it.