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The Dinner Party

by Michael  Cox
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Monday Jul 14, 2014
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Spectators were astounded by the audacity of Judy Chicago's art installation, "The Dinner Party," when it was first exhibited in 1979. It took six years, $250,000 and a number of volunteers to complete this triangular table with 13 place settings on each side.

But what astounded spectators was not the craftsmanship, but the size of the piece. Why would a woman make something so big?

Each place setting at this dinner party is dedicated to a remarkable female figure (fictional or historical), and each features an embroidered table runner with her name and images relating to her accomplishments on it, a napkin, utensils, a goblet and a plate.

The plates are remarkably decorated with a butterfly or flowerlike vulva design. And they progress from flat and round to magnificently full and sculpted as women's rights become more liberated. Along with the 39 tributes another 999 heroic women are honored with their names printed in the "Heritage Floor" tiles.

The three "wings" of the triangle house women from three different time periods: Wing I -- from prehistoric to the Roman Empire, Wing II - from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation, and Wing III - from the American Revolution to the Women's Revolution.

Chicago has learned though her work in studio art education that clarity is as important as message when communicating a political point. Her statement is powerful and layered without becoming ridiculously esoteric.

In "The Dinner Party: Restoring Women to History" the artist details this installation piece through close-up images and commentary on each of these revolutionary women.

This is the only book in print representing this milestone work. It also features two essays by Chicago and essays by art historian Frances Borzello and historian Jane Gerhard. Director Arnold Lehman of the Brooklyn Museum, where the instillation has been permanently housed since 2007, wrote the forward.

Chicago has learned though her work in studio art education that clarity is as important as message when communicating a political point. Her statement is powerful and layered without becoming ridiculously esoteric. This book is not only a beautiful, hardbound record of a piece of art, it also is a valuable instructional tool for understanding this work, along with the theories of late century feminism.

Everything about "The Dinner Party" compels the viewer inward, but chronologically the piece ends at the beginning of the Women's Revolution. We have to question what, historically, lies beyond this. Because are we not now in a period of post-feminism?

We will not move past feminism as a cause and a goal of artistic expression until we have a "matriarchy" as strong as the "patriarchy" -- or until both of those words have been lost to antiquity.


"The Dinner Party"
Hardcover
$45
The Monacelli Press
www.monacellipress.com

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