Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" acquired by the Brooklyn Museum
April 18, 2002
Artist Judy Chicago is best known for her monumental mixed-media sculpture, The Dinner Party, which was first exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1979. A symbolic history of women in Western civilization, the piece comprises an enormous triangular table with thirty-nine place settings commemorating women such as the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sojourner Truth, and Virginia Woolf. The table stands on a tile floor marked with the names of an additional 999 women. A landmark in feminist art, The Dinner Party was controversial for its use of sexual female imagery. Since 1979, the piece has been seen by more than one million people in a variety of venues. On April 18, 2002, The Dinner Party was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum for its permanent collection. The permanent installation opened on March 23, 2007 as the centerpiece of the new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
The Dinner Party remains a powerful reminder of the transformative power of inviting the legacy and heritage of women's achievements into one's life and consciousness. Boston's Fenway Community Health Center, for instance, sponsors an annual fundraiser inspired initially by Chicago's work. The fifteenth installment of "The Women's Dinner Party" gathered more than 1,100 women in support of the health center's outreach to HIV-positive clients and to the LGBT community in April 2006. Another indication of the continuing evocative power of this work is in the way that some schools have used the dinner party concept as an educational tool. The Blue Oak School in Napa, California, for instance, presented "The Dinner Party Art Exhibit" in May 2005. Blue Oak School's students from kindergarten through the sixth grade honored historic women by creating ceramic plates and place settings representing women from the fields of cooking, writing, inventing, athletics, and art, and of general achievement in the United States and around the world.
A descendant of 23 generations of rabbis, including the eighteenth-century Lithuanian rabbi the Gaon of Vilna, Chicago was educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and at UCLA, where she earned a master's degree in 1964. Her work has always explored questions of gender and power. Significantly, many of Chicago's creations have involved the collaborative work of dozens, even hundreds, of women volunteers. Her first major exhibit, Womanhouse (1972), was a joint creation of the members of the Fresno Feminist Art Program, which Chicago created at California State University in 1970.
The Birth Project (1980-1985) grew out of Chicago's realization that the birthing process was rarely a subject of Western art. For this piece, Chicago designed images of women in labor, which were then translated into needlework by women around the U.S. Needlework is also the medium for Chicago's Resolutions: A Stitch in Time (1994-2000), which reinterprets traditional proverbs. Other mixed-media projects, combining paint, photography, and bronze relief, include Powerplay and The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (1985-1993).
Chicago has also taught courses at Indiana University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and Pitzer College in California. Currently, Chicago offers classes through her non-profit Through the Flower foundation, based in New Mexico.
To learn more about Judy Chicago, visit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: In Focus: Jewish Women Artists; On the Map:The Dinner Party on display at the Brooklyn Museum.
Sources: www.judychicago.com; www.brooklynmuseum.com; jwa.org/discover/infocus/artists/chicago;Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 217-219; Amelia Jones, Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (Berkeley, 1996); Edward Lucie-Smith, Judy Chicago: An American Vision (New York, 2000); Gail Levin, Becoming Judy Chicago, A Biography of the Artist (New York, 2007); Letter from Adriana Guitierrez to the Jewish Women's Archive, March 7, 2005; Boston Spirit Magazine, April/May 2006; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution: jwa.org/feminism/index.html?id=JWA013; Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation (New York, 2007).