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Judy Chicago Artwork Planned for Desert X Canceled Over Environmental Concerns

Judy Chicago Artwork Planned for Desert X Canceled Over Environmental Concerns

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Judy Chicago Artwork Planned for Desert X Canceled Over Environmental Concerns

An ephemeral Judy Chicago artwork that promised visitors to this year’s iteration of open-air biennial Desert X, in Palm Springs, California, colorful plumes of nontoxic smoke, has been canceled after a local writer raised environmental concerns. The work by the pioneering feminist artist was to take place April 9 at the 1,200-acre Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, which told biennial organizers that it was pulling the plug on it for fear of becoming embroiled in controversy, according to the New York Times.Ann Japenga, a Palm Springs–based arts and environmental writer, began a letter-writing campaign to local officials after learning of the planned event and becoming worried that the smoke would negatively affect local wildlife, particularly a number of bighorn lambs that had recently been born in the area.“Huge volumes of colored smoke would obviously have a frightening and unpredictable effect on wild and captive creatures,” Japenga told Artnet News. “Two prominent local wildlife biologists confirmed that the event could endanger animals. It takes some serious mental gymnastics to pretend otherwise.”Chicago, who has been making what she terms “smoke sculptures” in California since the 1960s, said she was “surprised and upset” by the decision. The works sprang from the artist’s desire to make Land art that did not permanently alter the environment, in contrast with works made by her counterparts in the male-dominated field that typically involved the bulldozing or digging up of earth on a large scale. Chicago said she had worked for three months with Living Desert, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving local flora and fauna, to ensure that the artwork would not harm local wildlife.Desert X organizers have said they hope to find an alternate home and circumstance for the artwork. This is not the first time the contemporary art biennial has suffered the cancellation of a work owing to environmental concerns: In 2018, a Jenny Holzer light projection was scuttled over fears that it would endanger the area’s bighorn sheep. Desert X additionally came under fire for its decision to partner with Saudi Arabia for a 2020 exhibition, with opponents decrying the country’s human rights abuses.

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