Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party

The Installation

"There were thirteen men present at the Last Supper. There were also thirteen members in a witches' coven, and witches were always associated with feminine evil. The fact that the same number had both a positive and a negative connotation seemed perfect for the dual meaning of the piece....It became evident...that thirteen plates were not enough to represent various stages of Western civilization, and therefore the number tripled. I arrived at the idea of an open triangular table, equilateral in structure, which would reflect the goal of feminism — an equalized world. (Also, the triangle was one of the earliest symbols of the feminine.)"

"I decided to place the triangular table on a floor inscribed with the names of additional women of achievement besides those represented by place settings. This would suggest that the women at the table had risen from a foundation provided by other women's accomplishments, and each plate would then symbolize not only a particular woman but also the tradition from which she emerged."

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage
(Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1979), pp. 56 & 11-13.

"The Dinner Party is a work of art, triangular in configuration, that employs numerous media, including ceramics, china-painting, and needlework, to honor women's achievements. An immense open table covered with fine white cloths is set with thirty-nine place settings, thirteen on a side, each commemorating a goddess, historic personage, or important woman.... The Dinner Party suggests that these female heroes are equally worthy [as male heroes] of commemoration, as are those hundreds of others whose names are inscribed upon the Heritage Floor. This lustred porcelain surface serves as the foundation for The Dinner Party and the many important human accomplishments it symbolizes."

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party
(New York: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 3.

"The Dinner Party is, on one level, a reinterpretation of the Last Supper from the point of view of those who have done the cooking and serving throughout history. It is also a work which uses women's traditional needle skills to record and celebrate women's lives and achievements."

"The Dinner Party employs a Eucharistic metaphor in the use of not only altar cloths, but also plates or patens (the surface that holds the wafer during Communion); chalices (which hold the wine); and fair linens (rectangular cloths placed over the altar during the service), which are the basis for our runners. In The Dinner Party the 'Communion' is performed as the audience moves around the table, viewing this assembled community of women — Apostles, if you will — all of whom have served women through their lives and work. The viewers participate in the joy of women's heritage, but also experience the sadness that comes with the realization that this heritage has been obscured, fragmented, and denied for so long."

"I like to think of the potluck suppers we often had in the project as a kind of return to the original celebration of the Mass: a coming together to share our feelings, a time when we became renewed through the assembling of our community. Moreover, I hope that the piece itself suggests the importance of the role art can have in communicating human values, and the way it can provide a spiritual, even religious, meaning to life."

Judy Chicago, Embroidering Our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1980), pp. 265 & 267.

The Millennium Triangles

"The Dinner Party altar cloths are called 'Millennium runners,' M being the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and thirteen being the number of women represented on each wing of the table as well as the number of guests at the Last Supper. The Millennium is a symbolic reference to that moment in the future when the double standard — which defines men's rituals as not only significant but sacred, while rendering women's invisible — will end, and all human effort will be honored for its part in the richness of human experience.

The 'M' in the centers of the Millennium triangles, like the overall pattern, changes in appearance with shifts in technique. The first 'M' — worked in petit point — dominates the delicate areas surrounding it. The assertion of this central form is a symbol for the strength of the female principle as it existed in pre-history and as it is emerging today.

The first wing of the table, chronicling the gradual decline of women's social position, ends with the second triangle, which is softer in appearance. Although the 'M' is still differentiated from the other stitches areas, it is more difficult to perceive.

By the end of the second wing, women's status had reached its lowest point. The thousands of tiny stitches in the third Millennium triangle reflect the suppression of women's autonomy at this time. The bold technique of the petit-point 'M' has been replaced by a crochet pattern that renders the apocalyptic symbol an indistinguishable part of the whole design."

Judy Chicago, Embroidering Our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1980), pp. 265, 274, 33, 105, & 193.

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Last modified on April 24, 2007 by Kay Keys (kay@kaykeys.net)