In 1979 American artist Judy Chicago exhibited her ground breaking and iconic (collaborative) installation The Dinner Party (1979). The work is viewed as the first epic feminist artwork.
The Installation comprises of a large triangular shaped tabled with place settings for thirty nine people. Here the viewer is invited as if a guest.
Each setting is inscribed with the name of a historical and/or mythological woman. The work acts as a symbolic history of Western women within culture.
Each plate is adorned with yonic/labial imagery. The installation caused much controversy in the art world not only for its emphasis on women, but also because a female artist had created a work reflecting (shockingly!) positive imagery of female genitalia.
Feminist theorists however highlighted the work for encouraging women artists in utilising their own voice and for the artist’s agency and empowered representation of the female both culturally and sexually.
Chicago’s employment of the domestic setting subverts traditional ideas of the female artist and the private realm. Her use of ceramics and textile art (e.g. embroidery) within the piece celebrates traditional female creativity . The work implies a challenge to ideas that women’s work defined as ‘craft’ is less culturally valuable and opposes ideas of the masculine genius defined within notions of modernist ‘fine art’.
The work not only highlights ideas of female production within culture but itself raises such issues as the interpretation of art by challenging how male-dominated language on perceptions of gender and identity have been constructed within art.