Judy Chicago – The Dinner Table

The Bridwell Art Library is celebrating Banned Books Week with an artistic spin! Stop by the library to see our book display featuring challenged works of art, pick up coloring sheets and buttons, and share your experiences with censored artwork.

By Trish Blair

This is the story of a feminist dinner party and the brouhaha that surrounded it being seen, and the quest for its permanent home.

In the 1970s, the art world was dominated by old or dead men.  Not seeing herself or other women in that myopic view, Judy Chicago set out to change that.  Created from 1974-1979 she and her band of 400 volunteers created a massive cooperative art installation consisting of a 48-foot equilateral triangular table with 39 place settings of famous women.  Eventually the piece would recognize 999 more women with the addition of a tile floor inscribed with those names in gold. 

The first show opened and was a huge success at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with over 90,000 people seeing it in its three-month run.  However, subsequent viewings of the show were not in a museum again until 2002.  This was due mostly to the reviews of the shows being described as “failed art”, “crass, and solemn and single-minded.”  The vulvar imagery on the plates along with the ceramics and embroidery techniques involved were thought of as craft-work, vulgar, and radical. 

In 1988 after a decade of touring The Dinner Party needed a permanent home.  Judy Chicago, in 1990, attempted to donate it to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to anchor a proposed museum in a then empty library.  From there the Washington D.C. political media machine began writing stories that claimed that The Dinner Party “had been banned from several art galleries around the country because it depicts women’s genitalia on plates” and that the “Board of Trustees will spend nearly $1.6 million to acquire and exhibit a piece of controversial art.” This brought the ire of Republican Congressmen who deemed it pornographic and cut 1.6 million dollars from the UDC budget.  The entire cost of the renovation needed to house the piece.  Judy couldn’t take the fighting so she pulled the gift offer. 

Spring forward to 2002 and a wealthy museum donor bought, and gifted the entire piece to the Brooklyn Museum for permanent display.  In 2007 the Dinner Party was opened to the public and has remained there ever since.

Another great thing that came from The Dinner Party was the response from women world-wide who wanted to do something to join the empowerment they felt after viewing it.  Judy and her creative partner Miriam Shapiro decide that women could make triangular shaped quilt panels. The panels, which utilize a wide variety of materials and techniques, were made by different women or groups honoring and addressing individually selected women, women’s organizations, or women’s issues, to expand the number of women honored by Chicago’s The Dinner Party. In the end, 539 panels were made and eventually gifted to the University of Louisville’s Hite Institute from Judy Chicago. 

For more details about the Dinner Party see:

The dinner party : a symbol of our heritage – Art Library Reserves NK4605 .C45

Beyond the flower : the autobiography of a feminist artist – Art Library Reserves N 6537 .C48 A2 1996

Embroidering our heritage : the dinner party needlework – Art Library Reserves NK9106 .C47

https://louisville.edu/art/facilities-resources/international – honor-quilt

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/global-culture/identity-body/identity-body-united-states/a/judy-chicago-the-dinner-party

http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/the-dinner-party/dp-artwork/

http://www.news.artnet.com/exhibitions//the-brooklyn-museum-judy-chicago-dinner-party-1131506www.news.artnet.com/exhibitions/

Quilt
Gallery View: Capturing Women’s History: Quilts, Activism, and Storytelling,
Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville