The Goddess Project: Innocents, in Chagrin Falls
Judy Takács has been one of the most prolific and visible artists in Northeast Ohio, for years. She’s a constant presence in group and juried shows, and has had multiple solo shows as well, including a current collection titled The Goddess Project: Innocents, on view in the intimate Chagrin Arts gallery in the center of Chagrin Falls. It’s on view March 23 – June 12, 2022.
Chagrin Arts has been largely a performance presenting and production company, but with their office in the center of the historic village came the requirement that the storefront be open as a retail business. That made the small space with a door to the sidewalk a perfect venue for a gallery.
Takács is a painter of the human figure. As such, a part of the appeal of her work, including in this show, is the way that is rendered: the position of hands, the angle of a hip, the twist of a torso, a turned head sneaking or telegraphing an over-the-shoulder glance. But at least as important in many of these is the back story, and in that sense this show makes a strong statement. One of her long-running projects has been her “Chicks with Balls: Unsung Female Heroes” series. These were portraits of strong women, posed topless, with various balls—basket balls, soccer balls, whiffle balls—whatever it takes, or whatever makes sense to the model, to cover their breasts. And of course every one of the women has a story of strength, triumph over adversity, persistence.
On view in Chagrin are paintings from her “Goddess Project.” Here she casts her models as goddesses from various mythologies: Isis, Arachne, Persephone, Medusa, etc. She’s added to them details that help tell the story, and expound upon it, and in some cases bring it to the present. Pandora opening her box, for example, is a woman opening a box of books—a world of knowledge and inspiration not just in the box, but within each volume. One of the books is Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Another seems to be one of President Barack Obama’s memoirs. Eve, the first mortal woman, is pictured eating an apple, but in fact several apples are scattered around a stack of books, open and closed, in various stages of being eaten. Eve may have metaphorically lost innocence and gained knowledge by eating an apple, but in Takács’ portrait she’s learning from books. A snake slithers between the apples, across the open volumes. It doesn’t seem like much of a threat to this lady, but you never know with snakes.
This way of re-imagining the goddesses’ stories and bringing them into the present is a strength of these works, and on that point, this particular installation. The “innocents” in the title of the show is an allusion to the Ohio Innocence Project, an organization based at the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice. Chagrin Arts programming usually comes with a connection to a social justice cause, and in this case Takács has applied the Innocence theme to the mythologies of her goddesses. The Innocence Project works to free from prison people wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.
Takács’s paintings in this context stretch the mythological connections. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades not because the god of the underworld had convicted her of a crime; on the contrary, he wanted her to be his wife. Similarly, Medusa –the snake-haired woman, the sight of whom would cause men who looked at her to turn to stone—was not convicted of a crime and imprisoned. It’s a case of victim blaming, wherein the beautiful young woman (Medusa) is raped by a man (Poseidon), and another woman (Athena) blames the victim and punishes her with this curse. As Takács says, it’s a “Me Too” story.
Even if they are not directly parallel to the work of the Ohio Innocence project, they are about innocent women blamed for their powers, whether that be their strength, or beauty, or knowledge.
If you miss the show at Chagrin Arts, fear not: The Goddess Project paintings are gathered with their back stories in a handsome book. Takacs is signing copies at Chagrin Arts June 11, during Valley Art Center’s Art By The Falls festival. It’s also available through her website, JudyTakacs.com.