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
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.
Subjects: History, Sociology
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