Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party

I concluded that The Dinner Party is a passion of mine when, after experiencing a Goddess Conversations trip in March 2007 to celebrate this art work's installation in a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum, I spent considerable time with Judy Chicago's books documenting this work. My readings in the 1970s certainly brought me into alignment with the messages of the work, and I did see its installation in Houston in March 1980 (though I had forgotten many of the details). For those who need general background on the work, Wikipedia's article provides a good start.

"the concept of The Dinner Party slowly evolved. I began to think about the piece as a reinterpretation of the Last Supper from the point of view of women, who throughout history, had prepared the meals and set the table. In my 'Last Supper,' however, the women would be the honored guests. Their representation in the form of plates set on the table would express the way women had been confined, and the piece would thus reflect both women's achievements and their oppression."

"In The Dinner Party, I intended to make the butterfly a symbol of liberation and create the impression through the imagery that the butterfly became increasingly active in her efforts to escape from the plate."

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage
(Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1979), pp. 11 & 14.

"The goal of this symbolic history of women in Western civilization was and is twofold: to teach women's history through a work of art that can convey the long struggle for freedom and justice that women have waged since the advent of male-dominated societies, and to break the cycle of history that The Dinner Party describes."

"The Dinner Party visually describes the historic struggle of women to participate in all aspects of society; its aim is to end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women's hard-earned achievements are repeatedly written out of the historic record, sometimes within years of their attainments. This process results in generation after generation of women struggling for insights and freedoms that, even when fiercely won, are too often quickly forgotten or erased once again."

"As my concept for The Dinner Party developed, many people came forward to help with what seemed like ever-expanding work, some for only a few days, others ofr several years. Slowly teams evolved, not only in ceramics and needlework but also in research, graphics, photography, and fabrication."

"In both the art world and Congress, the plates were described in terms of female sexuality, as if there was something inherently evil about images that alluded to women's sexual power. As I've stated before, although the imagery is rooted in a vulval form, the plates are actually transmuted and layered images. However, I have become convinced that no matter how I describe the plates, this perception of the images as vaginas will continue, so I must ask: What is wrong with that?...

It appears extremely curious that in regard to The Dinner Party, there seems to have been such a strange congruence between the language of the art world and that of the right wing. In both instances, the plates were not described in the context of the huge tables on which they are displayed, nor was the imagery of the runners, the place settings, the streams of names on the floor, the entryway banners, or the ancillary exhibition materials even discussed. Instead, the plates were lifted out of the context of the work and examined as if with a speculum by a gynecologist doing a Pap smear.

Why this obsession with the plates? Perhaps because the suggest that female sexuality can be assertive, powerful, and transformative. What I believe is being revealed in this assertion that the plate images are somehow pornographic or obscene is something very real about our culture's view of women and women's sexuality: that it is, at its base, detestable or at the very least shameful and not to be publicly revealed.

...In contrast, the plate images exist entirely independent of men, bravely struggling to assert their own identities in their own context, their own history, and their own long effort toward liberation."

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party
(New York: Penguin Books, 1996), pp. 3, 7, 9, & 223.

The Entry Banners

The Plates: Wing One

The Plates: Wing Two

The Plates: Wing Three

Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Place Settings: Browse [With some Photoshop rearranging by Kay Keys]

For more information on artist Judy Chicago and on The Dinner Party, explore Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party [click on the visible links to bring additional links out of hiding]. Also visit Websites for Through the Flower and Judy Chicago.

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Last modified on April 26, 2007 by Kay Keys (kay@kaykeys.net)