Belen in San Francisco
On Aug. 26, Judy Chicago, world-renowned artist, author, educator and Belen resident, opened “Judy Chicago: A Retrospective” at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Calif., to a crowd of hundreds.
Among them where famous artists, writers, musicians, film producers, philanthropists, millionaires and Belen friends and neighbors. Ronnie Torres, city councilor and owner of Hair Innovations in Belen, was not only among the crowd; he was invited by Chicago to be her personal hair stylist. Torres is responsible for Chicago’s iconic purple hair.
“We’ve been trying to get Ronnie out of Belen to come to events and do my hair, until San Francisco, it was the first time we got him out of Belen,” Chicago joked on Sept. 25 during her Brooklyn Museum Talk, hosted by the Council for Feminist Art.
Torres created unique and personal hairstyles for Chicago during three separate events for the opening week of her first-ever retrospective. The exhibition at the de Young Museum includes more than 150 paintings, drawings, ceramic sculptures, prints and videos that chart the boundary-pushing path of Chicago, which spans her career.
Beginning with her early engagement with “California Light” and “Space Movement” in the 1960s to her most current body of work, “The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction,” a searing investigation of mortality and environmental devastation, which debuted at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in 2019, the retrospective has received world-wide press coverage from such outlets as The San Francisco Chronicles, The Guardian, The New Republic, Wallpaper, ArtNews, The Art Newspaper, Elephant, Hyperallergic, National Public Radio and more.
The Bay Area hosted other openings that honored Chicago’s work that weekend, including “Judy Chicago: Human Geometries” at the Jessica Silverman Gallery, “Judy Chicago: Cohanim” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, part of the “Experience Leonard Cohen” exhibition, and in Berkeley work by Chicago was featured in “New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century” at the Berkley Museum of Art and Pacific Film Archive.
Torres was not the only Belen local in attendance at these events. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova with his wife, Megan Malcom-Morgan, Lena Malcom and Kelly Cross were all present at the private openings.
A couple times these locals were not on the prestigious guest list, however, Chicago just laughed, waved her hand and said, “Follow me. They’ll let you in.”
Sure enough, Chicago led the way and her friends were admitted without hesitation.
Leading the way is nothing new for Chicago, who has spent her career spearheading feminist art and trailblazing for social change. In 2019, Through the Flower Art Space, a nonprofit arts organization originally founded by Judy Chicago, opened at 107 Becker Ave. in Belen as a space for visitors to become inspired, empowered and educated about the importance of art.
The Art Space also serves the community as a place to conduct research using the resource library, view public programing and learn more about the lives and legacy of Chicago and her photographer husband, Donald Woodman, who have both lived in Belen for almost 30 years.
Chicago and Woodman have been instrumental in historical revitalization of Belen buildings, including the Belen Hotel, which was originally built by Bertha Rutz in 1907 as a boarding house for local railroaders.
The Through the Flower Art Space is also an historically renovated building, which enhances the beauty of the Historic Railroad District and serves as an anchor for the Belen Arts District.
This Saturday, Oct. 16, Chicago will present a multi-colored, site specific, “Atmosphere” performance titled “Forever de Young” at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This event will be live-streamed at 6:30 p.m. The performance will be expected between 7-7:30 p.m., subject to weather conditions. Follow Through the Flower on Facebook and Instagram to watch the live-stream.
An “Atmosphere” performance is not new to local residents; on July 20, 2019, in celebration of the grand opening of Through the Flower Art Space and Judy Chicago’s 80th birthday, Chicago performed “Birthday Bouquet for Belen.” In July 2021, local residents had another opportunity to witness “Diamonds in the Sky,” which celebrated the revitalization of the Belen Arts District after a year of economic devastation and heartbreak due to COVID-19.
Since the opening of Chicago’s retrospective in San Francisco, Through the Flower Art Space has seen an influx in tourism to Belen.
Chicago has conducted countless interviews, book signings and thought-provoking conversations, including with Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior, at the Brooklyn Museum and legendary activist and writer Gloria Steinem in New York City, who wrote the forward to Chicago’s autobiography, “The Flowering.”
In each of these conversations, Chicago talked about the Hub City as her home, and even provided anecdotes to the audience about the people who live here. The times have finally caught up to Chicago, but she remains humble and supportive to the people and community of Belen.
If interested in becoming a volunteer at Through the Flower Art Space in Belen, email email@example.com. Through the Flower Art Space is open from 12-5 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, or by appointment.