Sunday, August 16, 2009

Seeing Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum

Getting to see Judy Chicago's masterwork, The Dinner Party, was nothing short of a life dream come true. My well-thumbed copies of Chicago's books about the project were my sole connection with it, and they had a profound influence on me as an artist. They made me believe that I could make art as a quilter. Through Judy Chicago's website, I had been following the effort to find a permanent home for her work which finally happened at the Brooklyn Museum. Having four days in New York City meant that I would finally have time to make the pilgrimage.

The New York subway system has improved immeasureably since the 1970's when I lived in Manhattan. I walked and got very good on the buses back then just to avoid having to make the trek underground into those dark, dirty, unsafe trains. Now, what a difference! We were staying in Times Square and I got a clean, well-lighted, air conditioned train directly to the museum in that station. This is also a good time to mention that the Brooklyn Museum is the best-kept secret in New York City. It has a collection that rivals the Met, but without the crowds. I visited on a weekday and was alone in the Dinner Party exhibit for almost 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, as with most museums, photography is not allowed, so you will have to make use of the links to check out the work itself. Here's a virtual tour. The Dinner Party is basically a triangular table with each side representing chronological historical periods. On each side are thirteen place settings that feature a table runner and a plate that illustrate facets of the woman's life. The table sits on a tiled floor that features the names of other women fired into the tiles. Judy Chicago had the assistance of many, many workers who made the runners and worked with her to create and fire the plates and tiles. She designed the images, but the weaving, embroidery, beading, stump work, quilting and appliqué was done by willing women who donated their labor.

Having this amazing work all to myself for the first 45 minutes was invaluable. I was able to stop in front of each setting, study the work at my leisure, and then go around a second time. The generous exhibit space also includes a little screening room that shows a very good film about the project on a continuous loop and the research panels with all of the amazing women that Chicago learned about in her journey discovering women's herstory.

Trotula's table runner is one of my favorites. It's an appliquéd tree of life on a quilted background. Elizabeth I and Mary Wollstonecraft are fabulous as well. Photography just does not do this work justice.

Here's a close-up of the magnet I bought in the gift shop of Trotula's table runner. There are several new books out about the Dinner Party that I will have to collect soon.

The Dinner Party is an incredible vision and is a tribute not only to Judy Chicago's artistic ability, but also her organizational talents. The work itself is amazing and the stories of the women it honors make me very proud to be a woman. I highly recommend the short trip to Brooklyn if you will have some time in New York City. You won't be sorry.


quiltcat said...

This is so neat! i knew about the plates, but not about the tablesettings that each is on. I look forward to taking the virtual tour once i get the latest version of Flash downloaded. It must've been wonderful to have it to yourself for 45 minutes.

Dana W. Fisher said...

While I was alone in the exhibit, all I could think of was my friend who had travelled to Chicago when it was touring and then had crowds of people between her and the settings. It was an amazing cherry atop the sundae!
All the best to you, Cat.