Collected Work: Art
The Dinner Party
by Judy Chicago
Installation art, textile art
Of the thirty-nine places at the dining table, one is reserved for the Primordial Goddess. Petals part, billowing like curtains, in the centre of her sturdy ceramic plate. A smooth, pink, vertical lip emerges from the darkness. Whether vulva or seed, the dish speaks of life’s origins. A runner embroidered with the guest’s name lies beneath the painted crockery. The textile is adorned with animal skins and cowrie shells, presenting their own slit-like apertures. Given their porcelain sheen, they may be mistaken for objects created not by nature, but by human hands.
The Dinner Party is a monumental banquet, with Judy Chicago as the host. Each personalised tablecloth is fashioned with the same meticulous consideration, each plate replete with distinct symbolic decoration. We find Sappho, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Virginia Woolf among the attendees. The visitors are to be seated in three lines of thirteen, all facing inward to the centre. Positioned alongside each other, they form a triple echo of another famous supper, but the gathering before us is not mentioned in the Bible or the history books.
Long and narrow, the table turns three sharp corners to form the outline of a triangle. A ceremonial atmosphere is established; this is a commemorative feast. Even absent women are honoured, with 999 names inscribed onto the floor of handcrafted tiles. Arranged with the same thought afforded to the seating plan, the heritage floor attests to the amount of research and creative labour behind the work’s ornamental symbolism. For the party-planner and her studio, the effort was worthwhile, a bid to reinstate women’s names in history.
But our first impressions are not of the stitched names, the painted details, or the tiny cowrie shells. For those treats, we must stay longer, familiarising ourselves with the company and their stories. Instead, we are greeted by the riot of table-runners, as if a procession of colourful flags. They are altar-cloths and loud banners, a tribute and a protest. The Dinner Party vividly celebrates the achievements of a thousand women, Chicago included, while fiercely demonstrating against our tendency to overlook their feats. We are confronted with a choice: do we steal away into the night, or pull up a chair to join them?
Words by Emma McKinlay
More to discover
You can visit Judy Chicago's website here, and find a history of The Dinner Party on the website of Through the Flower, a non-profit feminist art organisation founded by Chicago. You can also watch a video tour narrated by Chicago here.
Katherine Brooks has interviewed the artist for The Huffington Post, as have Rachel Cooke for The Guardian, and Ariel Levy for The New Yorker. Mia Fineman has written about The Dinner Party for Slate.
Question of the day
Seven Twists I-IV, a series of photographs by Dora Maurer. A square shape rotates through six shots, each image a fractal of the next. The last twist is left to us. (→)
– Elizabeth Brown, Silent Frame's Deputy Editor (via Patreon →)
Jannis Kounellis's 1979 untitled work. Tate-goers might recognise its charcoal drawings, sketched chimney smoke, and stuffed birds. (→)
– John Wadsworth, Silent Frame's Editor-in-Chief (via Facebook →)