Monday, June 25, 2012

A Woman's Table*

The following was originally posted on September 20, 2010. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Summer Retrospective.

Last week I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see The Dinner Party, created by Judy Chicago (and hundreds of volunteers), a landmark piece of feminist art from the late 1970's. Surprisingly, I had never heard of this piece, which is now on permanent exhibition as the centerpiece of the museum's Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

The Dinner Party is a large triangular table with dinner place settings for 39 women (real and mythical) who over the course of history have impacted feminism, women's rights, and/or the perception of women in the world. Each featured woman represents a cadre of women who made related contributions, and 999 additional names are scrawled on floor tiles in the center. Some represented include The Fertile Goddess, Hatshepsut, Sappho, Elizabeth I, Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf and Georgia O'Keefe.

Each place setting contains a unique plate and table runner styled to represent the individual woman's contribution, plus an identical fork, knife and goblet to represent the unity among them. The ceramic plates feature stylized butterfly/flower/vulva forms, and the intricately stitched table runners and ceramic work alike spotlight centuries of “unsigned” women’s art—the quilts, clothing, dishes and more that women have sewn, painted and created over time.

As with any piece of (woman-centered) art of this scale and attention, The Dinner Party was controversially received. Developed between 1974-1979, and debuted in San Francisco, it then existed without a permanent home for over two decades. Is this so surprising, given that women’s work and art has traditionally been pushed to the margins? Let alone a piece of women’s art designed to highlight that very history…

Personally, I found the piece impressive, intriguing and inspiring, but most of all--it begs a conversation. After all, what else is a dinner party for?

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