Since the 1970s, Judy Chicago has been a pioneer in the development of feminism as an artistic movement and an educational project that endeavors to restore women’s place in history. Her most influential and widely known work is the sweeping installation The Dinner Party (1974–79), celebrating women’s achievements in Western culture in the form of a meticulously executed banquet table set for 39 mythical and historical women and honoring 999 others. One of the most important artworks of the twentieth century, and one of the most popular in our collection, upon its public debut in 1979 it immediately became an icon of feminist art. The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art was established in 2007 with The Dinner Party as its foundation.
Roots of “The Dinner Party”: History in the Making is the first museum exhibition to examine Chicago’s evolving plans for The Dinner Party in depth, detailing its development as a multilayered artwork, a triumph of community art-making, and a testament to the power of historical revisionism. Chicago’s ambitious research project combatted the absence of women from mainstream historical narratives and blazed the trail for feminist art historical methodologies in an era of social change. It also validated mediums traditionally considered the domain of women and domestic labor, as the artist studied and experimented with China painting, porcelain, and needlework.
The exhibition presents rarely seen test plates, research documents, ephemera, notebooks, and preparatory drawings from 1971 through 1979 alongside The Dinner Party, encouraging exploration of its formal, conceptual, and material progress.