Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”: Feminist History Illuminated

Either I have very bad visualization skills, or Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party is very hard to describe. This is my attempt to explain it: You enter a section of the museum which is devoted to feminist art. There is one small room that has a video playing on a loop of a brief history / explanation of The Dinner Party, and around that corner is a wall of hundreds of names and descriptions of feminists. Behind that wall are hanging slabs of wood that have biblical-like phrases on them, but referring to women instead (yay), which is most likely a reference to The Last Supper, where there were no women, which “suggests the theme of reunion in [The Dinner Party].”

Then around another corner is The Dinner Party. The room is dimly lit, with dark blue glass walls and a large triangular table in the center. Picture a very large equilateral triangle, but instead of being solid all the way through, there is a large space in the center, so that the very sides of the triangle are thick, but there is nothing in the center.

The plates matter the most in this piece of art. There are about fifteen plates on each side of the triangle, and under each plate is a runner that corresponds with the woman represented on the plate. On each runner is the name of that woman embroidered with gold. Next to each plate is a fork, knife, spoon and goblet that resembles the Holy Grail. Under the table is a white tile floor, with the names of about nine hundred other women feminists, that are written in gold cursive.The plates are in chronological order, which you would not know unless you were a pro at feminist history. One thing that almost every plate has in common is that the design is vaginal.

One of the few exceptions was Sojourner Truth’s plate. “[She was a strong [proponent] of equal rights for both African-Americans and women,” which led her plate to be very different from the others, in that there were women’s faces on her plate, and it shows a scene rather than a reference to the women’s personality and work in the feminist world. Other than that, the differences in appearance of each plate is from the chronological aspect. The first plate was the Primordial Goddess, which was very plain, and the very last plate was Georgia O’Keeffe, which was very extravagant. On each plate is a design that connects to the woman in some way, and as the plates progress chronologically, the plates become more elaborate. For example, O’Keeffe’s was the last plate, and her design was protruding from the plate and had many colors. Since O’Keeffe was infamous for making vaginal imagery in the paintings of flowers (which she denies), her plate was the most explicit. Since paintings of nude women were mostly done by men,and they usually only revealed women’s breasts and backsides, O’Keeffe was considered a radical because of the imagery in her paintings.

One of the many biblical symbols in The Dinner Party is the goblets that resembles the Holy Grail. In The Last Supper, Jesus had his own goblet that was very plain, and he was the only person who had one. In The Dinner Party, every plate has one. And instead of there being one long table, with a center that clearly indicates the head of the table, the triangular table is equal in length on all sides, never indicating one person higher than the other.

I highly recommend The Dinner Party. Even if you are not a feminist and are not at all interested in the history of feminism, the plates themselves are beautiful. The room’s dark environment illuminates the table and floor, creating one of the most interesting and ingenious pieces of art.

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