The Dinner Party

What's for dinner?
What’s for dinner?

No, this isn’t a blog entry about a “fabulous” dinner at the trendiest place to eat in the San Francisco bay area.  I had the pleasure to read The Dinner Party book by the fabulous artist Judy Chicago.  My husband got the signed book for me for Valentine’s Day.  An amazing gift and interesting detailed read about Chicago’s journey creating her most influential piece of art.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1939, Judy Chicago went on to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of California-Los Angeles in the 1960s.  She’s a well-known feminist artist, educator, activist, and journalist.  Her artwork is represented by major galleries and part of collections in major museums.

The Dinner Party is Judy Chicago’s most recognizable piece of art and first appeared at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1979.  The art installation represents over 1038 female artists, contains 39 illustrated plates, and 2304 ceramic tiles.  She spent an exhaustive amount of time in research and crafting the piece using the resources afforded/available at the time.  Chicago: “ … when I first created The Dinner Party, it was with the goal of trying to break the cycle of repetition that has consistently erased the achievements of such women from the historical and cultural record.”  The Dinner Party was a successful attempt at shedding insight on how women were pushed aside or forgotten about in history.

Here’s an image of The Dinner Party:

The triangle shaped table is broken into three wings: Prehistory to Rome, Christianity to the Reformation, and the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution.  The women represented in the piece had to make a contribution to society, improve conditions for women, achieve role model status, and/or played an important part in women’s history.  Fascinating females include Boadaceia, Hypatia, Marcella, St. Bridget, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth R, Zenobia, Octavia, Catherine of Aragon, Artemisia Gentileschi, Joanna Koerton, Anna van Schurman, Anne Hutchinson, Mercy Otis Warren, Sacajawea, Maria Montoya Martinez, Margaret Cavendish, Mary Wollstonecraft, Yekaterina Dashkova, Sojourner Truth, Anna Ella Carroll, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, Wanda Landowska, Margaret Sanger, Dorothea Dix, Golda Meir, Mary Read, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Georgia O’Keefe, Barbara Hepworth, Julia Morgan, Louise Nevelson, Suzanne Valadon, and many others.

Chicago’s book goes into depth about the laborious process of researching artists accurately, creating pieces at a high level of mastery, organizing volunteers, fighting for exhibition venues despite its success, and trying to find a permanent venue to house the piece.  Today, the piece is located at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Art Museum.

Her journey to becoming an artist encountered many challenges.  Chicago: “After graduate school, I set out to make a place for myself in the Los Angeles art scene of the 1960s, which was entirely male dominated.  My only choice at that time seemed to involve modeling myself on men and men’s art, which I sincerely tried to do both in my persona and in my art.  But this did not work for me.  After struggling for acceptance for over a decade, I decided to turn to history to see if there had been any women before me who had experienced the difficulties, the meager recognition, and the isolation I had endured.”

After reading the book, I was left feeling sad and disgusted by the treatment of women throughout history.  Many were prosecuted, killed, and rejected for wanting equal rights, education, or freedom of expression.  It made me feel thankful for the opportunities but grief over the loss of valuable time, contributions, and possible achievements.  Unfortunately, my opportunities resulted at the expense of some amazing women.  My hope is that the future of history only encourages humanity to be its best possible despite gender, race, sex, or any other inequality.

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