I’ve always wanted to see Judy Chicago’s enormous feminist-art piece, The Dinner Party, in person, having seen pictures and descriptions of it for many years. Yesterday, I got to the Brooklyn Museum, where it currently resides, in a long-term installation.
Ms Chicago conceived the work in the mid‘70s, but it actually took five years and a small army of artists to build it, completing it in 1979. The main portion of the installation is a large, triangular room with a large, triangular table. Each side of the equilateral triangle — representing equality and strength — has a place setting for 13 women, historical and legendary, who have contributed to the world as leaders, artists, scientists, writers, doctors, activists, etc. Each of the place settings also represents, by extension, many other such women, whose names are drawn on the tiles that form the platform under the table.
Each place setting consists of an embroidered runner with the honoree’s name and a design that connects to her, and a plate decorated with a design based on butterfly, flower, and vulva shapes, reminiscent of many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings — and, in fact, Ms O’Keeffe is the 39th “guest” at Ms Chicago’s table.
Finishing out each place setting is a goblet, a napkin, and a set of flatware, the same for all 39 settings. The sameness, says the artist, represents the sameness with which women are treated, despite their uniquenesses and contributions.
Leading into the main room is a hallway with a set of embroidered banners that contain lines from a poem by Ms Chicago. After the main room, is a set of “historical panels” that list the women on the place settings along with the other names associated with each... it’s hard to read them from the floor tiles.
The whole installation is beautiful, fascinating, and powerful. I’m so glad I’ve finally had a chance to see it. And it’s accompanied by a 45-minute film narrated by Judy Chicago, in which she describes the design of each place setting and of the piece as a whole (I only had time to see part of the film on this trip, the part from Sojourner Truth to Georgia O’Keeffe). I aim to go again, and to allow about two hours just for this work alone.
If you live in the New York area, or if you get here for a visit, do make a trip to the Brooklyn Museum — easily accessed by subway — and see this, along with the rest of the museum’s excellent collection.
[And see the Brooklyn Museum web site for a 3-D virtual tour of The Dinner Party.]