Summer book: Judy Chicago, ‘The Dinner Party’.

blog Summer book: Judy Chicago,  ‘The Dinner Party’.

The first time I heard about ‘The Dinner Party’  (1974-1979) of Judy Chicago,  it must have been in the 90’s. I imagined the dinner party as a women’s version of the classic ‘Last Supper’ theme paintings, such as the one of Michelangelo in the church of Milan (1495 – 1498).
It’s kind of … only Judy Chicago’s is an installation artwork. Three (real) tables are set in a triangle. On each side (called ‘wing’ in the book) there are 13 places. Each one has an embroidered banner and painted porcelain plate, dedicated to a special female person or archetype. The chosen females at the table represent mythical and historical famous women.

There is still a lot to be said about the project.

Although Judy Chicago may be one of those artists whose work is seen by an enormous amount of people, it is only within a special group that she gets recognition. As a visual artist, she has not been given the ‘approve’ of the art world. After the success of the initial show, the tour she had planned was cancelled. The art reviews were not good and the art world neglected her after that.

From our library I borrowed the book: The dinner party : from creation to preservation
The sorrow of Judy Chicago is in this book and colors it a little. The question – was it an act of discrimination, (what she suggests) or is her work just not fitting in the art history from that time? – should not affect this book. Because – although I find after reading this book, the project a little less powerful than in my memory  –  it is still a fantastic project.

Chicago spend a lot of time in designing, researching technics as embroidering and pottery, (because they were original female technics, and therefore used in this art work), the real importance of the work – to me – is in ‘finding women’s history’. After the introduction, the book is a beautiful history book with short biographies of women grouped in 3 aerie’s: “Prehistory to Rome”, “From Christianity to the Reformation” and “From the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution”.

The first part, handles mythical and legendary figures. Although I find the stories about (semi-)gods, female or male (always) a bit uneasy, her message stands. The concept of what people nowadays call God: is built on a ‘male model’, but, according to Chicago it used to be a ‘female model’ (in Scandinavia and Africa is proof found for this theory). Chicago suggest an interesting contemplation, which  could be taught in every school worldwide: “try to see your God as a woman, and look how this different perspective might affect society today, and what do you learn from that…? “.

The other two parts are about – some more well known then others – interesting  women mostly connected to the cause for women’s emancipation. It is very enjoyable to read and browse through, a beautiful book. With detailed pictures of the dinner party, it almost gives the feeling of old handwritten manuscipts. (Check the link for Wikipedia, for all the names and backgrounds.)

I hope to visit ‘The Dinner Party’ one day: after 30 years, in 2007, the project found her permanent and appropriate place in the Brooklyn Museum, in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.


  • 2304 handcast gilded and lustered tiles
  • on which described 999 women
  • 13 women places set on 3 tables
  • the banners are 76,2 cm x 129,5 cm
  • the plates have a diameter of 35,6 cm
  • 1038 women women represented
  • dimensions of the tables 14,6 x 14,6 x 0,9 m
  • Opening 1979, 14 march, in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • 5000 people visited the opening
  • 100.000 viewers saw the show
  • many many volunteers worked in this project (researchers, embroiderers, painters, pottery bakers etc.)

Annetta Willemse (voormalig coördinator sociale media en webcommunicatie bij Atria)