Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” is the main focus for the newly opened Elizabeth E. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The Sackler space is quite small and is almost completely engulfed with the monumentally sized “Dinner Party”. You can’t help but feel as though this is another publicity stunt perpetrated by the Brooklyn Museum on the American public, attracting viewers more for the “car wreck” presence of the art work rather than for some sense of historic, cultural or educational purpose, all things that are expected from such a devoted organization such as Sackler.
Chicago, a nickname given to her by a gallery owner for her distinctive accent, has been working on this dinner party concept for years. While the concept has many strengths and opportunity for historical statement and the celebrating of “women’s crafts” as profound, dignified and distinctive artist techniques, Chicago decides instead to make her visual communication tool be the female genitalia.
To pay tribute to historical female figures of great significance through an example which is literal, idealistic, pretentious and demeaning in a bourgeois setting such as a “dinner party” is by no means bringing women any closer to their goals of social status in our contemporary society or international cultures.
Chicago’s concept of these accomplished female figures and bringing them together to honor and share their “struggling out of containment and being eaten alive” as Chicago puts it, is not where the work fails. It fails in its repetitive, familiar and redundant execution of these grossly reliefed, dressed and dolled up plates. One could hardly imagine Virginia Woolf feeling honored by her namesake plate’s nonsensical depiction of who she was and stood for, much less an honorable visual representation of her achievements, and cultural remembrance of her. Would she want to be equated with the domesticity that this plate represents, as well as forever being associated with female genitalia?
This entire piece, from the triangular table to the bathroom tile floor it sits upon, is not worthy of being associated with these women’s. The gold signatures on the white tiled floor do nothing for the work, and are more of a back-up method for where the work lacks. These gleaming white bathroom tiles under the entire piece acting out as the floor in the center, leaves you empty and waiting for a disco ball to drop and light up possibly for obscenely groomed poodles to perform a circus act. The personalized embroidered runners under each table setting would have almost made this worth the trip if they weren’t completely overshadowed by the hideous plates and generic ceramic cups and utensils. The only time you actually feel a presence of these women is when Chicago manages to briefly break away from her orthodox and entirely predictable forms.
The Brooklyn Museum as well as some reviewers from the Dinner Party’s past appearances rave about the perverse crowds it creates, which as I stated before, these same crowds form around a car wreck. The raving of this should be re-evaluated and they should also reconsider this being a permanent exhibit and make room for some Feminist work that actually utilizes its philosophy and demonstrates its historical significance, accomplishments and reasons for it still being a movement that contemporary female artists feel the need to revisit and continue using as a catalyst for their work.
April 11, 2007