In 1974, Judy Chicago set out to put together a legendary dinner party. Her carefully chosen guest list included 1,038 incredible women – 39 “guests of honor”, who would each have their rightful place at a grand triangular table, and 999 others, who would have their names inscribed in the floor on which the massive ceremonial banquet would rest. It took five years and the help of hundreds of collaborators and volunteers to orchestrate her vision, but the result was extraordinary… a true milestone celebration of women in history that continues to this day. Thirty-three years later, on behalf of Judy Chicago, Women You Should Know is inviting you to The Dinner Party.
The Dinner Party is a monumental, multi-media installation and an icon of 20th century art. It is considered the first truly significant work of American art, conceptualized by a woman, to survey the historic contributions of women to Western civilization over the millennia. Judy, a feminist artist, author, and educator, created The Dinner Party as a visual symbol “to end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record”. The result: a piece that elevates female achievement to a heroic scale traditionally reserved for men.
To date, the massive work of art has been exhibited in 16 venues in 6 countries on 3 continents to a viewing audience of over one million people. Since early 2007, it has been permanently housed in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, NY. A recent “YOU MUST SEE THIS” suggestion from one of our Salt Lake City readers was the impetus for a WYSK staff field trip last week. We had no idea what to expect and were all completely BLOWN AWAY by what we saw… certainly one of the coolest women’s history lessons we’ve ever gotten and one of the most inspiring dinner parties we have ever been invited to attend.
When we entered the room that houses The Dinner Party our mouths collectively dropped open as we stood before an enormous triangular table that is covered with fine white cloths and open in the center – a visual symbol of equality. Each side of the triangle measures 48 feet in length to accommodate 13 elaborately unique place settings for Judy’s 39 “guests of honor”… goddesses, historical figures and important women. The base of each place setting is an intricately designed runner, which hangs over both sides of the table. Every runner bears an individual woman’s name and reflects an overall motif that embodies who she was and what she stood for using an array of needle and fiber techniques that are executed in a manner that is historically accurate to her specific time period. All 39 hold the same gold ceramic chalice, utensils and a napkin with an embroidered edge. In the center of each runner sits a fourteen-inch china-painted plate with a distinct style. Though they are all different, every plate is based on butterfly and vulvar forms. One place setting is more gorgeous than the next and the detail, interest and craftsmanship of every component is just incredible.
Elizabeth I Place Setting. Jook Leung Photography
Wing One of the table begins in prehistory with the Primordial Goddess and continues chronologically with the development of Judaism; it then moves to early Greek societies to the Roman Empire, marking the decline in women’s power, signified by Hypatia’s place setting. Wing Two represents early Christianity through the Reformation, depicting women who signify early expressions of the fight for equal rights, from Marcella to Anna van Schurman. Wing Three begins with Anne Hutchinson and addresses the American Revolution, Suffragism, and the movement toward women’s increased individual creative expression, symbolized at last by Georgia O’Keeffe.
The Heritage Floor
The table sits on an immense, porcelain Heritage Floor comprised of 2,304 hand-cast, gilded and lustred tiles that have the inscribed names of 999 other important women from prehistory to the 20th century – goddesses, mythological figures, religious figures, government leaders, entrepreneurs, writers, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, architects, scholars, historians, educators, military figures, athletes, physicians, scientists, explorers, philanthropists, activists, and suffragettes. These names convey “how many women had been able to make their ideas known – sometimes in the face of overwhelming obstacles – only to have their hard-earned achievements marginalized or erased.” The process of creating the Heritage Floor took over two years. Out of 3,000 names researched and compiled, 999 were selected for inclusion on the floor’s tiles based on very specific criteria.
How She Did It
Judy Chicago began The Dinner Party alone. After months of work, her concept had evolved to the stage where it required the assistance of other people. Gradually, a studio team was built, and over the course of the next few years (1974-1979), hundreds of volunteers helped the core staff of The Dinner Party studio to realize Judy’s vision. They brought a variety of skills to the project including ceramics, needlework, fabrication, graphics, photography, and research, and worked together under Judy’s guidance to complete the piece.
Whether you live in the NYC area or anywhere else on the planet, we’re passing along the same “YOU MUST SEE THIS” we got. It was a recommendation we are so thankful we took because The Dinner Party is a spectacular celebration of Women You Should Know.