As acclaimed artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual Judy Chicago turns 75 this year, the Oakland Museum of California joins prominent museums across the country in presenting a nation-wide retrospective of her work. For the first time, digitized images from A Butterfly for Oakland, Chicago’s 1974 site-specific installation on the shore of Lake Merritt, will be on view at OMCA, in celebration of Chicago’s four-decade career.
Known for her provocative feminist and socially conscious perspective, Judy Chicago staged a series of ‘atmospheres’ in California between 1969 and 1974. The ‘atmospheres’ series culminated in A Butterfly for Oakland, a pyrotechnic display on the western shore of Lake Merritt in October of 1974. A symbol of transformation, flight, and freedom, Chicago created A Butterfly for Oakland using a combination of commercial fireworks and road flares. The displays were then lit by hand, resulting in a “painting” of colored smoke. The result was a brief performance that enlivened the Lake Merritt environment.
While the “atmosphere” only lasted for about seventeen minutes, the display was captured by photographers and a film crew, resulting in 178 images documenting the event. These images have since been digitized and a selection will now be on view for the first-time in the exhibition Judy Chicago: A Butterfly for Oakland, on view in OMCA’s Media Space 1, located in the Gallery of California Art.
The Oakland Museum of California commissioned Chicago to make A Butterfly for Oakland for the exhibition Public Sculpture, Urban Environment. Several of the large sculptures on and around the Museum campus were part of this exhibition, including the redwood burl sculpture The Planet by J.B. Blunk currently located outside of the entrance to the Gallery of California Natural Sciences and Bruce Beasley’s cast Lucite Tragamon in OMCA’s Koi Pond.
Image credit: Documentation of Judy Chicago's, A Butterfly Atmosphere for Oakland, 1974, 35mm color transparency. Courtesy of the artist and Paul Chadbourne Mills Archives of California Art, Oakland Museum of California.