Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Erte on plates of cheesecake

This is truly a delightful discovery I ran across in New York- Judy Chicago's infamous The Dinner Party, an installation of ceramic plates and embroidered place mats intended to celebrate important historical and mythical women. It matches my literary-artistic tastes (Natalie Barney and Georgia O'Keefe).

The exhibit was overseen by Judy Chicago, though it is the collaborative effort of many women artists, and was launched in 1979 to enormous controversy. The reason was the artist's choice to celebrate these icons of feminism by making the unifying motif for each plate a highly-stylized rendition of the female genitalia or, to be more exact, plates of vulva.

Above is the most-articulated plate, that of fellow-artist Georgia O'Keefe.

Many of the plates are more subtle. To be honest, I find the plates to be a bit too grotesquely purple-cherry-hot-blue, arousing associations with rape, death and bruised flesh. I love Georgia O'Keefe's paintings, though.

I confess that when "The Dinner Party" first appeared, I was a bit shocked at the crudeness of its chosen metaphor. But over time, the project has grown on me, and seeing it for the first time in person reminded me why gender makes a difference in our appreciation of the world. C. has taught me how women are never free from the sexual pressure of objectification, whether taunts and catcalls on the street, or the never-ending reminders by the media how women are expected to look beautiful and be sexually-available to men at all times.

These differences aren't always comfortable, nor do they invariably lead to insight or mutual understanding between men and women. As many of you know, I always appreciate a good argument, and was granted the seeds of one recently on Polymatchmaker.com, whose forums have some of the silliest debates I've ever run across. Recently two female members of a certain age were insisting that the Sexual Revolution was a setback for women, as it had freed men to enjoy casual sex while pressuring women to be the source of that play.

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