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The Dinner Party

Judy Chicago and the Power of Popular Feminism, 1970-2007

Jane F. Gerhard

Publication Year: 2013

Judy Chicago's monumental art installation The Dinner Party was an immediate sensation when it debuted in 1979, and today it is considered the most popular work of art to emerge from the second-wave feminist movement. Jane F. Gerhard examines the piece's popularity to understand how ideas about feminism migrated from activist and intellectual circles into the American mainstream in the last three decades of the twentieth century.

More than most social movements, feminism was transmitted and understood through culture—art installations, Ms. Magazine, All in the Family, and thousands of other cultural artifacts. But the phenomenon of cultural feminism came under extraordinary criticism in the late 1970s and 1980s Gerhard analyzes these divisions over whether cultural feminism was sufficiently activist in light of the shifting line separating liberalism from radicalism in post-1970s America. She concludes with a chapter on the 1990s, when The Dinner Party emerged as a target in political struggles over public funding for the arts, even as academic feminists denounced the piece for its alleged essentialism.

The path that The Dinner Party traveled—from inception (1973) to completion (1979) to tour (1979-1989) to the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum (2007)—sheds light on the history of American feminism since 1970 and on the ways popular feminism in particular can illuminate important trends and transformations in the broader culture.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

...had a history, a politics, or even a collective to join. Th at honor falls to Anne Koedt, author of the 1970 “Th e Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” and muse of my fi rst book, Desiring Revolution. But studying the art and writings of Judy Chicago and then meeting her did teach me many things and for that reason, my fi rst acknowledgment goes to her. I met the artist in 2009 at her ...

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INTRODUCTION: Toward a Cultural History of The Dinner Party

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pp. 1-20

Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party, the most monumental work of the 1970s feminist art movement, has been praised, damned, celebrated, and denounced since its debut in 1979. In fact, it delineated the need for women’s history, but strangely until now it has had no history of its own. Th is is particularly surprising because contemporary...

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ONE: Making Feminist Artists: The Feminist Art Programs of Fresno and CalArts, 1970–1972

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pp. 21-47

In 1970, artist Judy Chicago took a position at Fresno State College (fsc, now the California State University, Fresno). She arrived on the innovative campus for the spring semester, not sure of what to expect.1 Professionally, she brought with her a reputation as an up-and-coming artist with a recognizable name, a quality that enabled her to push ...

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TWO: Making Feminist Art: Womanhouse and the Feminist Art Movement, 1972–1974

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pp. 48-75

the house on 533 north mariposa in Hollywood, California, opened on January 23, 1972. Th e weeks leading up to the opening of Womanhouse were intense as the twenty- three students enrolled in the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at CalArts worked countless hours on the rooms each had designed, either alone or in collaboration. The seventeen...

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THREE: The Studio as a Feminist Space: Practicing Feminism at The Dinner Party, 1975–1979

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pp. 76-108

In 1974, Chicago began what turned into a five-year project on a monumental work, The Dinner Party. For over a year, the artist had been working on historical themes in her art. As her thinking about women’s history and about women’s exclusion from the grand sweep of art history evolved, Chicago settled on the idea of a dinner party seating...

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FOUR: Joining Forces: Making Art and History at The Dinner Party, 1975–1979

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pp. 109-148

Between 1976 and 1979, Chicago headed a signifi cant cultural feminist art studio in Santa Monica, California. She had succeeded in drawing people to help her complete a monument to women’s history, The Dinner Party. As the studio expanded, Chicago grew more comfortable with the process of cooperation that enabled the work-intensive project to...

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FIVE: Going Public: The Dinner Party in San Francisco, 1979

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pp. 149-179

the scheduled opening for The Dinner Party—March 1979—loomed large over the studio. Th e group worked a grueling schedule to fi nish, their lives outside the studio seeming to shrink as the opening date approached. Yet in the face of the tremendous task of completing The Dinner Party, keeping the studio financially afloat also required a tremendous...

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SIX: The Tour That Very Nearly Wasn’t: The Dinner Party’s Alternative Showings, 1980–1983

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pp. 180-210

Despite the crowds and the enthusiasm on display in San Francisco, the formal gatekeepers of the institutional art world did not embrace The Dinner Party either before or after its brilliant opening in 1979. That spring, the next two museums scheduled to show The Dinner Party reneged on their agreements, leaving Chicago and Gelon scrambling to find ...

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SEVEN: Debating Feminist Art: The Dinner Party in Published and Unpublished Commentary, 1979–1989

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pp. 211-245

The Dinner Party opened in its second and last major museum show in the fall of 1981 at the Brooklyn Museum. The Brooklyn opening of The Dinner Party confirmed the work’s symbiotic relationship with the media. Before the museum openings, Chicago and Gelon cultivated media attention as a way to raise money and build audience interest in the...

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EIGHT: From Controversy to Canonization: The Dinner Party in the Culture Wars, 1990–2007

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pp. 246-282

after the brooklyn museum opening, The Dinner Party moved to Chicago, Cleveland, and Atlanta for community shows, and then abroad. Three Canadian museums showed it in 1982 and 1983; huge crowds turned out and made the venues significant and (somehow still) unexpected profits. The international tour became an unbridled success, opening ...

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EPILOGUE: A Prehistory of Postfeminism

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pp. 283-290

in the summer of 1989, Judith Green from La Crosse, Wisconsin, wrote to Through the Flower describing how she fi rst came to know about The Dinner Party. Her letter, like many others sent to the artist, testified to the circuitry of community and media through which The Dinner Party reached viewers, the well- worn paths between word of mouth, newspaper, ...


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pp. 291-332


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pp. 333-337

E-ISBN-13: 9780820345680
E-ISBN-10: 0820345687
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820336756
Print-ISBN-10: 0820336750

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America
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OCLC Number: 842264866
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Dinner Party

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Subject Headings

  • Chicago, Judy, 1939- Dinner party.
  • Chicago, Judy, 1939- -- Criticism and interepretation.
  • Feminism -- United States.
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