The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago at Brooklyn Museum
Judy Chicago, a feminist artist, designed The Dinner Partyexhibition. Widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork, it functions as a symbolic history of women in civilization. It is an important icon of 1970s feminist art and a milestone in twentieth-century art, presented as the centerpiece around which the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at Brooklyn Museum is organized.
It is a massive triangular dining table — measuring 48 feet on each side — with thirty-nine place settings dedicated to prominent women throughout history. It was produced from 1974 to 1979 as a collaboration and was first exhibited in 1979.
Made up of more than 2,000 white luster-glazed triangular-shaped tiles, each inscribed in gold scripts with the name of one of 998 women and one man who have made a mark on history – the man, Kresilas, was mistakenly included as he was thought to have been a woman called Cresilla. The tilings cover the full extent of the triangular table area, from the footings at each place setting, continues under the tables themselves and fills the full enclosed area within the three tables. There are 2304 tiles with names spread across more than one tile.
Each place setting features a table runner embroidered with the woman’s name and images or symbols relating to her accomplishments, with a napkin, utensils, a glass or goblet, and a plate.
Although critics praised the table runners, they ignored or disparaged the plates. These ceramic objects, which become increasingly three-dimensional during the procession from prehistory to the present in order to represent women rising, look somewhat like flowers and butterflies. They also resemble female genitalia, which many people found disturbing. Writing for the feminist journal Frontiers in 1981, Lolette Kuby was so taken aback by the plates’ forms that she suggested that Playboy and Penthouse had done more to promote the beauty of female anatomy than The Dinner Party ever could.
The first wing of the triangular dining table has place settings for female figures from the goddesses of prehistory through to Hypatia at the time of the Roman Empire. This section covers the emergence and decline of the Classical world. The second wing begins with Marcella and covers the rise of Christianity. It concludes with Anna van Schurman in the seventeenth century at the time of the Restoration. The third wing represents the Age of Revolution.
You can see here these 39 women with plates on the table.
The Dinner Party was created by artist Judy Chicago with the assistance of numerous volunteers, with the goal to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.”
Judy Chicago said she got the idea for the work while attending a real dinner party in 1974. “The men at the table were all professors,” she recalled, “and the women all had doctorates but weren’t professors. The women had all the talent, and they sat there silent while the men held forth. I started thinking that women have never had a Last Supper, but they have had dinner parties.”
Through a tantalizing array of ephemera, preparatory drawings, and early works by Judy Chicago, it takes an in-depth look at the long, arduous development of the artwork, which took five years and countless volunteers to assemble—and has since become the poster child of the Feminist Art movement.
Judy Chicago soon expanded it to include the thirty-nine final women arranged in three groups of thirteen. The triangular shape has significance because it has long been a symbol of the female. It is also an equilateral triangle to represent equality. The number thirteen represents the number of people who were present at the Last Supper, an important comparison for Judy Chicago, as the only people involved there were men.
Through an unprecedented worldwide grass-roots movement, The Dinner Party was exhibited in 16 venues in 6 countries on 3 continents to a viewing audience of over one million people.
The Dinner Party prompted many varied opinions. Critics have returned to the exhibition in later years and stated that their opinions have not changed. Many later responses to the work, however, have been more moderate or accepting, even if only by giving the work value based on its continued importance.