Nearly four decades after the explosive arrival of the world’s most famous feminist
artwork, The Dinner Party, a response is here: The After Party – by two Swedish artists who were not even born when Judy Chicago’s piece created art and women’s history.
The After Party is an homage to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, from 1979, which is on permanent display at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. And it is not only a tribute, but also a response, a continuation and a follow-up to Chicago’s piece.
In Evelina Dovsten and Kristin Larsson’s piece, the table is set for 13, with Judy Chicago as the host or chairperson at the head of the table. The other guests are Dovsten and Larsson’s role models and sources of inspiration, women who have bucked convention, worked hard, and who bolster other women. Just as Chicago took the liberty to set the table for goddesses, Dovsten and Larsson have invited fictional people – when it comes to role models, storytelling has a natural place.
But while Chicago aimed to rewrite world history, Dovsten and Larsson tell a much more personal story. The piece poses questions about who has made us who we are, who has shaped the artists, and who has shaped you. Who would you have set the table for – and who has set the table for you?
Another difference is that while The Dinner Party comprises traditionally female crafts, such as sewing, embroidery, and painted porcelain, The After Party is created in the previously male-dominated glassblowing technique, now conquered by female artists. The piece consists of a long table covered in a blue velvet tablecloth. Each guest has a place setting with 7-10 hand-blown/free-blown pieces, all made by Dovsten and Larsson together. The individually created sculptural setting for each guest has its own color scheme and is designed as a tribute to the individual. The table overall is an installation, but each setting is also a stand-alone sculptural object.
THE ORIGINAL PIECE
The Dinner Party was created from 1974-1979 – the piece took six years to complete and over 400 people volunteered their craftsmanship.
The piece primarily comprises three set tables which form an equilateral triangle. The equal-length sides represent equality; the triangle is a female symbol and the work is filled with numerical symbolism. Each of the three tables represents an era of history and they are all set for 13 people. The number 13 is of course a reference to Jesus’ Last Supper – with only men seated at the table.
Each and every one of the 39 guests from world history has a unique setting: a hand-embroidered runner, gold-embroidered napkin, a chalice, earthenware utensils and a specially made ceramic plate with its own personal design – except for one in the shape of a vulva symbol. This in particular was significant when the piece premiered, because while the phallus is a well-known
symbol, the vulva is provocatively unestablished.
The first table honors women and goddesses from Prehistory to the Roman Empire; the second table honors women from early Christianity to the Reformation, and the third table honors women who lived during the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution. The table stands upon The Heritage Floor, which comprises over 2,000 mosaic tiles on which the names of 999 additional important women from world history are engraved in gold.
Judy Chicago was born in 1939 as Judith Cohen. Her father was a socialist who descended from 23 generations of rabbis, and he faced persecution in the age of McCarthyism. Chicago took her surname as a form of protest against the practice of naming women after men – whether fathers or husbands.
Judy Chicago – the catalyst and host (Dovsten och Larsson)
Feminist artist and source of inspiration, placed in the highest seat of The After Party. This is Larsson and Dovsten’s tribute and expression of gratitude for the enormous work of Chicago and her team when they completed The Dinner Party in 1979 – and for what the piece came to signify. Chicago changed our view of history and her piece is as relevant today as when it was first completed.
Lena Dunham – freedom from inhibitions (Larsson)
The actress, director and writer debuted with the feature film Tiny Furniture at the age of 24. Two years later she created Girls, the groundbreaking series which she wrote, directed and produced, and also played one of the main characters. The series has shaped Kristin Larsson and an entire generation’s view of their role as young women. Perhaps most crucial of all is the way in which Dunham shows her body, with no regard for the fact that it does not conform to society’s beauty norms and standards.
Renata Chlumska – adventurousness (Dovsten)
The professional adventurer was the first Swedish and Czech person to climb Mount Everest. Renata Chlumska has also accomplished the feat of the Seven Summits: she has climbed the highest mountain on every continent. Like many artists, Chlumska studies the possibilities and limitations of the body. She has inspired Dovsten’s obsession with adventure expeditions and interest in exploring the body’s conditions.
Margaret MacDonald – the big picture (Dovsten)
Scottish artist who lived from 1864-1933 and who, through her art, saw houses as a synthesis of work: construction, furnishings, paintings and even clothing. For MacDonald and other Art Nouveau/modernist artists, craftsmanship played a significant role in art. Evelina Dovsten discovered MacDonald while working in Scotland. It was a revolutionary art experience that left clear traces in Dovsten’s work, such as accentuated blackness and sharp lines in geometric patterns.
Bianca Kronlöf – civil courage (Larsson)
Comedian and actress known for her comedy show Full patte (with her sister Tiffany Kronlöf), her participation in the theater group Gruppen, and as an actor at the Royal Dramatic Theater. Bianca Kronlöf highlights racism and feminism in abrupt shifts between seriousness and comedy – viewers laugh, cry, and become outraged. She also encourages civil courage and the rejection of institutional racism and sexism in daily life.
Grynet – the rebellion (Larsson)
Fictional program host (played by Elin Ek), known from Grynets Show on SVT from the early 2000s. Grynet pushed for rebellion and a kind of healthy megalomania – with the message that people do not have to change in order to please others. The character emerges from the notion that everyone loves her as she is. She thus deviates from the female norm of pleasing others and existing for others’ sake. For Kristin Larsson and an entire generation of kids, Grynet provided a first encounter with feminism.
Caroline (Maria Gripe) – seeing beyond reality (Dovsten)
A fictional character created by Maria Gripe in her “Skuggserien” book series, including Skuggan över stenbänken (“The Shadow on the Stone Bench”) and more. Caroline questions her own “true” self and goes in and out of various roles. At the age of 11, Dovsten was deeply influenced by Caroline, whose character still inspires her in her artistic practice to see beyond a reality that is far too conformist and serious.
Åsa Brandt – the pioneer (Dovsten och Larsson)
Internationally renowned glass artist, the first in Europe to start her own glass studio (in 1968, in Torshälla outside Eskilstuna). Even though everyone said it would never work, Åsa Brandt stood her ground – she wanted freedom from the industry and to blow her own glass. Brandt is a role model for Larsson and Dovsten, who both value the artistic freedom and control over the final results entailed by blowing their own glass.
Annica Sandström – the reflection (Dovsten)
Glass artist based in Scotland whose artistic method inspired Dovsten to pause and work more reflectively – with the basic philosophy that every choice one makes, no matter how large or small, is significant. Through Annika Sandström, Dovsten also saw how an artistic practice can be broader than traditionally blown glass – and most important of all: how to take her work and art with the utmost seriousness.
Kim Martin – obstinacy (Larsson)
Hockey goalkeeper who played 244 international matches, took home two World Championship bronze medals, one Olympic bronze and one Olympic silver medal, and three Swedish Championship gold medals. Kim Martin was named the best (female) hockey player of the year, but that certainly did not entail the equivalent of a man’s pay – rather than a contract for millions of Swedish kronor, she received a monthly wage while active of about SEK 6,000. In 2014, Kim Martin stopped playing hockey for financial reasons.
Isabellah Andersson – endurance (Dovsten)
Eight-time winner of the Stockholm Marathon and holder of the Swedish record for the same distance. As a result of Isabellah Andersson’s methodical training and tactics, she relies on her own approach to completing a run and never allows herself to be influenced by her surrounding opponents. Dovsten is interested in the mental and physical endurance that long-distance running produces. It benefits glassblowing, just as the oxygen-poor glass studio environment benefits running.
Rut Larsson – independence (Larsson)
Farmer’s wife on a milk farm in Sörmland. The severe and somewhat mystical Rut Larsson was also Kristin Larsson’s grandmother. There was nothing Rut Larsson could not do herself – she embodied total independence. She killed wasps with her fingers, and when a magpie flew into her kitchen, she did not open the windows: rather, she shut herself inside and handled the situation with an iron poker.
Gunilla Dovsten – precision (Dovsten)
Sculptor, ceramist who dared to make her own choices early in life. When she was younger, Gunilla Dovsten traveled abroad and spent a long time in Japan where, over years of study, her artistic designs developed precision. Evelina Dovsten spent many childhood summers with her Aunt Gunilla in her big house, which always welcomed creativity. Gunilla Dovsten thus played a crucial role in Evelina’s choice of profession.