The Dinner Party

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Corianne Almekinder

Published on March 23, 2011

  • Description:

    The Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art was erected in 2007 and incorporated as part of the Brooklyn Museum. Located within the museum, the Sackler Center is dedicated to emphasizing and honoring feminist art and artists. The center plays a prominent role in an art museum, which showcases many canonical works of art. The revolutionary space of the Sackler Center brings attention to feminist issues, and provides space to a group of people and genre that has for years been oppressed.

    The Sackler Center’s long-term installation consists of Judy Chicago’s piece The Dinner Party, which began being worked on in 1974 and was completed in 1979 by hundreds of collaborators. The Dinner Party commemorates and celebrates the achievements of 1,038 women, both mythical and real. Most of the women included in the exhibit had been largely overlooked by history, but have since been reclaimed by feminist scholars. The flow of the exhibit is very specific: visitors are offered a gallery guide which gives more information about the history of the women being commemorated. The exhibition begins with entry banners, which set the stage for the visitor to think about those represented in history, and whose voices are heard in society. Next, visitors enter a large dimly lit room filled with three long tables connected to form a large triangle. On the tables are 39 place settings, each with an embroidered runner with the name of a historically notable woman, a gold ceramic chalice, utensils, embroidered napkins and a fourteen-inch china-painted plate. Each plate is decorated with vulvae and butterfly like images, specific to the style and demeanor of the woman being represented. The names on the runners begin with prehistorical and primordial goddesses, and follow history up to present day, including women from the development of Judaism, Greek and Roman societies, Christianity and the reformation, the American Revolution, and suffrage. The floor of the installation is made up of 2,300 hand cast porcelain tiles, containing the names of 999 other notable women. This work of art has been noted as the “First truly monumental work of American art, conceptualized by a woman, to survey the contributors of women to western civilization…” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

    During its time, The Dinner Party was revolutionary, and still represents many important feminist social issues. It is the central installation of the Sackler Center, “preserving for posterity a visual symbol that the artist created specifically to ‘end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.’” Through the Sackler Center, the Brooklyn Museum seems to be placing an emphasis on understanding and honoring feminist art, and ensuring that it retains a prominent place in a large, historical museum setting. The audience seems to be people who would normally be visiting the Brooklyn Museum, as well those specifically interested in feminist studies and art. I believe the center actually attracts tourists and regular visitors to the Brooklyn Museum, as well as classes focused on feminist topics. While I was looking at the exhibit, there was a class of about 12 college students viewing and discussing the exhibit. They were at the Brooklyn Museum specifically to see The Dinner Party and examine the feminist center. The exhibit seems to be getting across the idea that women have not been represented throughout history, even though they have made many accomplishments and achievements. The fact that there is an entire wing dedicated to feminist art tells the audience that it is highly valued within the Brooklyn Museum. I believe it is important to maintain a place for feminists to voice their opinions in a socially conscious way, because the reality is that many women do not have that chance. The Dinner Party is a monument to the lives of influential women throughout history and in my opinion, a wonderful addition to the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

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