During 1974-79, Judy Chicago, along with collaborators both male and female in what are patronizingly called “decorative arts,” (embroidery, weaving, painting on ceramic) created a work called The Dinner Party. The installation is triangular table with an exquisitely embroidered runner and 39 hand-painted and decorated ceramic plates. Each was made in the shape of a vulva, and decorated in a way which was meant to express the spiritual, artistic and esthetic contribution to society made by a famous woman.
The work has plenty of critics, some, the usual suspects, powerful old men in high places who loudly declared that it was “pornographic,” but also quite a few feminists. Some criticism has to do with the way certain famous women are represented—for instance, frilly Victoria’s Secret pink might not have been the best choice for the private, solitary Emily Dickinson. Perhaps the inclusion of Georgia O’Keeffe, who declared that her flower paintings had nothing to do with the vaginal, showed a disregard for her often stated opinion. Perhaps Virginia Woolf, a writer who despised the public’s obsession with the gender of authors, is another who should not have been included. Other female critics have said that it’s not only vulgar, a tune with one note, but demeaning to women, reducing these famous foremothers to a bad-joke common denominator.
I’m not a visual artist, but it seems to me that while you might find fault with a part of the whole, The Dinner Party accomplishes its purpose, both as a work of art and as a feminist statement. It is estimated that 15 million people on three continents have seen it, pondered it, and argued about it. The installation has been a taking off place for women to think about their obscured history and about their accomplishments, about their historical and mythical power, their works of art and their creativity. Not since the Stone Age has such a shout-out been created for the central fact of femininity. If the penis has been celebrated as the great ejaculator of ideas, why can’t the vulva, too, be celebrated and honored as it once was in pagan times? This, after all, is the joyous portal through which all creation emerges.
My historical novels:
My historical novels:
The Dinner Party may be seen at the Brooklyn Museum: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party/