Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Judy Chicago's Opening Night

Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party (opening night, 14 March 1979)

The Dinner Party,
place settings for Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth

One of the most amazing and controversial second-wave feminist works is Judy Chicago's monumental, multi-media art installation, The Dinner Party.

In an effort to reclaim women's history--and to provide a counternarrative to canonical art memorializing the New Testament story of the Last Supper--Chicago decided to use the idea of a banquet to create her symbolic history of women.

Instead of women's usual roles on such formal occasions, preparing the meal, serving it, and then cleaning up the mess, Chicago conceived of an oversize banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine women. Their individual place settings, each one of which includes a unique and elaborate needlework runner, a sculptural dinner plate, utensils, and a goblet, are arranged on three sides of a triangular table, each side of which is forty-eight feet long. This table is set on top of what Chicago calls a "heritage floor," 999 porcelain tiles, each one inscribed with the name of another notable woman.

The place settings are arranged chronologically, each side called a wing. The first wing begins with the primordial goddess and ends with Hypatia of Alexandria. The second begins with Marcella of Rome and extends to Anna van Schurman. The first place setting on the third wing is for Anne Hutchinson, the last for Georgia O'Keefe.

Almost lost for want of a home, The Dinner Party is now permanently displayed at the Virginia A Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Museum hosts an incredible gallery for online viewing. Included is a history of the art work, a virtual tour of the piece, from entry banners, detailed looks at each of the place settings, a description and viewing of the Heritage Floor and seven Heritage Panels. 

If you can't go to Brooklyn, at the very least take the online tour today!

The banquet table, The Dinner Party

Update, 7 February 2018: For Sasha Weiss's extended retrospective on Judy Chicago's life and work, "Judy Chicago: The Godmother," published today in the New York Times Style Magazine, click here.

Update, December 2018: On a happy note, Judy Chicago is one of this year's Time Magazine "100 Most Influential People," with an essay by Jill Soloway, which you can access by clicking here.

And on a not-so-happy note, there are still people--particularly those self-identifying as Christian evangelicals, evidently--who find something to fear in the work of Judy Chicago. Although Chicago has made her home in Belen, New Mexico, for the last twenty-six years, living and working in the town of 7,000 (as well as establishing her arts organization, Through the Flower, there, hosting small exhibitions featuring the work female artists in New Mexico), some fearful town residents have objected to the idea of a proposed Judy Chicago museum there: "As Christians, we are for order, justice, security and protection,” in the words of just one such critic. “I’m for protecting the eyes of the innocent, especially the children.” Sigh. To read Simon Romero's "A Museum Honoring Judy Chicago, Star of Feminist Art? Not in This ‘Sleepy Little Town" (New York Times, 15 December 2018, click here.

Update, 19 September 2019: An interview with Judy Chicago, who has two current exhibitions (one in Los Angeles and one in Washington D.C.--the headline in the New York Times says it all: "Judy Chicago on Rescuing Women from Art History's Sidelines" (click here).

Update, 7 July 2021: The Fine Arts Institute of San Francisco has announced a new exhibition, "Judy Chicago: A Retrospective" (click here), "the first retrospective of her work" (28 August 2021-9 January 2022). Click here for an online view.

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