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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Judy Chicago's DINNER PARTY

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. This was a 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 Dinner Party Wolstonecraft Plate may be seen, along with the rest, 
at the Brooklyn Museum: 

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 50's petticoat frills might not have been the best choice for the solitary lady in white 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 The Dinner Party is not only vulgar, a tune with one note, but demeaning to women, reducing these brave and brilliant fore-mothers 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 powerful, provocative 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.  It's a shout-out for the central fact of the feminine. 

Hindu Temple, Goddess gives birth

If the penis has been celebrated as the ejaculator of ideas, why can’t the vulva, too, be celebrated and honored as it once was in pagan times? Let's reclaim that old time pride in our bodies and what they can do. Woman is the portal through which all creation emerges.

Judy Chicago's artwork is ongoing:

Birth Tear, from the Birth Project, by Judy Chicago

Senior curator David Revere McFadden wrote about The Creation tapestry:
“...Casting this archetypal story as that of female fecundity flies in the face of visual, cultural, and religious history. It becomes a metanarrative by implication, reflecting Chicago’s determination to challenge the status quo and to question received knowledge”.

~~~Juliet Waldron

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