The Dinner Party was moved into the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum in 2007, and I was there because my Mom took me. I had been oblivious to both Judy Chicago’s oeuvre and feminist art, save the Georgia O’Keeffe poster that hung above the red leather couch of my teenage basement, so the effect was palpable. It’s impossible not to feel something as a 21-year-old strolling around a triangle table fitted with 39 plates embossed with “butterfly vaginas.” The piece might not hit as hard today as it did when it was first released in the 70’s – when congress considered prosecuting it as pornography – but it still is incredibly arresting. The project’s goal remains resonate in the present, as a non-annotated quote on the piece’s Wikipedia page puts it, “The Dinner Party elevates female achievement in Western history to a heroic scale traditionally reserved for men.”
For those not familiar here is an introduction to the piece in the form of a terrifically absurd yet strangely informative Travel Channel segment:
“I know what you’re thinking, ‘That’s not art, that’s just a triangular dinner table’” Wowzers
Other than prove why this dude’s show never went to series, the video also exhibit’s two things:
1. The Dinner Party features an implicit Jewishness. The plates seem to allude to those centering many Seder tables this time of year. Moreover, the 13 place settings per side of the table was meant to reference the 13 attendees of The Last Supper, which is possibly the most famous Passover Seder ever.
2. The Dinner Party’s dinner party seems like one hell of a dinner party. Night at the Museum siren Sacagawea, fashion trendsetter Isabella d’Este, and a Snake Goddess are just three of the 39 important and dynamic hypothetical guests.
This is why here at Jewcy we recommend this year throwing a The Dinner Party themed Passover Seder/Party/Potluck. The goal is not to make light of the work but to proclaim its relevance. The Dinner Party should be as lived in and ingrained in the popular cultural fabric as any great work and we see no better way of doing so than a knock-down-drag-out soiree.
Here are a few tips to make it go swimmingly…
Get the guest list right. Do you have 38 friends? Perfect. Have everyone pick a Dinner Party guest to honor. If you have more than 38 have them pick one of the 999 great women represented on the installation’s tiles (which include names like Katherine Hepburn and Gertrude Stein.) Boys are allowed but forced-drag is likely bad form. Those willing to attend a Judy Chicago inspired Passover Seder are probably a self-selecting bunch but still commitment is key to make your party the perfect homage.
Act like you’ve been there before. Implore your guests to learn about their women. They should probably know at least who was a poet or a saint or a scientist. If anything this knowledge will inform their costumes.
It’s finally time to put that old Hatshepsut costume to use. It won’t be easy, as at least some of your friends won’t have 4,000-year-old dresses. So be lenient, as the famous saying goes, “dark hair and a decapitated head, a Judith costume makes.”
Build a giant, inconvenient triangle table. Chicago’s triangle is a reference to the lasting symbol for female so it is a must have for any The Dinner Party themed dinner party. For those too lazy or lacking the access to a Chicago like 400+ volunteers, we recommend at least once an hour have everyone stand in a triangle to play the popular drinking game waterfall.
My Mom suggested using the Santa Cruz Haggadah. It is appropriately gender neutral, while still being approved for its traditional structures. If you are going to have a bunch of your friends dress like pre-historic female icons, you probably shouldn’t read a Haggadah packed with he, his and him.
Have fun. Just like a traditional Seder, one should both honor the sacrifice of our ancestors and celebrate the family, friends, and life we are afforded as a result. To put it simple, don’t forget that every place setting in the installation has a wine glass.