Dinner Is Served

We were wrong, as people often are when they judge things without looking. But that knee-jerk dismissal seems destined to be repeated by today's "post-feminist" generation. Catherine Morris and Ingrid Schaffner, the curators of "Gloria: Another Look at Feminist Art From the 1970s," were partly inspired by Vanessa Beecroft's casual disdain for earlier feminist practices when she spoke on a panel following her infamous Guggenheim Museum performance/installation.

"Gloria" (at White Columns, 320 West 13th Street, through October 20) focuses on the strain of feminist art my contemporaries might have welcomed (if they'd only known about it)—the media-savvy, often photo- and video-based practices, derived from both conceptual art and popular culture and destined to work their way into the artistic mainstream. This superb exhibition of early art by Carolee Schneemann, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, and many others, includes crotch shots (self-portraits by Hannah Wilke and Valerie Export) and bloody messes (like the one staged by Ana Mendieta on the University of Iowa campus), but the emphasis of the work has shifted from women's anatomical essence to its uncomfortable and disarming effects upon the viewer. And the mad housewife is everywhere; in place of Chicago's utopian dinner party, there's Martha Rosler's hilarious video spoof of TV cooking shows—a deadpan exploration of the potential violence of ordinary kitchen utensils.

A work of art and a pedagogical tool: The Dinner Party installation, with Margaret Sanger’s place setting at center
photo: Robin Holland
A work of art and a pedagogical tool: The Dinner Party installation, with Margaret Sanger’s place setting at center

But do we really still need to choose between rage and celebration? And is the work of a current art star like Tracey Emin, which, like The Dinner Party, combines traditionally feminine crafts such as embroidery and quilt-making with installation, and which rests on the tacit assumption that her private experience carries a deeper social meaning, even conceivable without the generations that preceded it? (Emin's show at Lehmann Maupin, 540 West 26th Street, continues through October 19.) In fact, in its historic range and ambition and despite its flaws, The Dinner Party is still vastly inspiring—the dream of a community still to come.

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