What We Feel and What We Mean
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Category — Visual Art

Invited to the Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum

In my opinion, one of the most impressive and memorable artworks at the Brooklyn Museum was The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It is considered an icon of feminist art, representing 1,038 women in history, with 39 women represented by place settings and another 999 represented by their inscribed name in the Heritage Floor. I was also impressed on how well kept it was despite its creation 32 years ago, in 1979. One would have to go see it for him or her to truly appreciate this masterpiece.

Before I even entered the isolated room of The Dinner Party, I noticed six woven banners hanging in procession. I thought it was a great way to introduce visitors to it. They consisted of the red, black, and gold tones and common motifs in the actual work such as triangular, floral and abstracted butterfly forms. On the banners, a series of phrases were woven into it, to convey Chicago’s vision for an equalized world of the genders.

Below are four of the six woven banners:





Afterwards, I entered the room to see the principal component of The Dinner Party, a massive ceremonial banquet arranged in the shape of an open equilateral triangle- a symbol of equality- measuring 48 feet on each side.  I was struck by the grandeur of piece, and the focused lighting made the artwork that much more heavenly. The way the “guests of honor” were commemorated on the table was so extravagant, each place setting with intricately embroidered runners, a gold ceramic chalice and utensils, a napkin with an embroidered edge, and the most appealing, the china-painted plate. The first place setting I saw was the Primordial Goddess:

I did not think much of the colors and design on the plates until I continued walking around the triangular table. I realized that the place settings were placed in chronological order and the design on the plates was getting more graphic as we climbed upwards the historical ladder.  I was taken back a little when I saw Caroline Herschel’s plate, the first one I saw that literally popped out. I had no idea that what I was about to see as I proceeded would be even more intense- that being a way to put it.

Here is Caroline Herschel’s plate:

I started wondering and convincing myself that these are vulvar forms on the plates. It made sense being that a female’s vulva is the main distinction between the sexes and a symbol of femininity. I thought it was very clever how Chicago decided to make every succeeding plate more protrusive, to show that women are breaking out and taking more control for themselves. They are getting more rebellious as I sensed from the plates. Honestly,  I was a little freaked out, maybe even a little disturbed, even though I am a woman myself to see female genitalia expressed this way.

Below is Virginia Woolf’s plate- notice how much more ‘swollen’ the ‘vulva’ has become compared to Herschel’s:

I felt sympathy for accomplished women after seeing The Dinner Party because I know women in history would have never been truly able to celebrate their achievements, especially in the form of such a fancy dinner party. It is upsetting that women were looked down upon when they fought so hard, perhaps even harder than men, to have the same status as the rest of society. I’m happy to see that women are increasingly more recognized as years go on, and that women’s history and perspectives are being integrated in almost all aspects of human civilization.

(Note: I was the photographer for all of the photos shown above.)

December 21, 2011   No Comments

Snapshot Day Photo

This is the photo I submitted for snapshot day. The photo is of the fire hydrant parked conveniently outside my house. The light was provided by the street light. I think it gives it a cool shadow and effect.





December 21, 2011   3 Comments

Mark and Michael’s Final Project

December 20, 2011   No Comments

Dia: Beacon, a Medley of Contemporary Art

The Dia: Beacon museum was like no other museum I have been to before. Even before arriving at the museum, I admired the art I saw. On the Amtrak, I looked over the beautiful Hudson River, and the colorful trees responding to the changing season. As we headed closer to Beacon, the environment became more spacious and open, and I only imagined how the museum would be like- vast and roomy enough to let endless types of art take life in the exhibits. When looking at the museum from the outside, its size may not seem that impressive, but when I walked inside, boy, did I feel small, as if I were a little child again, fascinated by pieces of art that enveloped my being.  There were so many different exhibits of contemporary art, but I will only talk about a few of them here.

One of the first exhibits I saw was Blinky Palermo’s ‘Retrospective’. It was very unique of him to choose basic colors such as black, red, yellow and green in all his pieces, and create a myriad of works by just arranging and grouping those colors differently, in colors and shapes. None of the designing was elaborate at all, and perhaps that is why he called this particular exhibition ‘retrospective.’ As we look backwards in life, things gradually get simpler, eventually reduced to our simple mentality during our early childhood years. The medium of all his works at the museum was acrylic paint on aluminum or steel, some kind of canvas. Palermo displayed unconventional painting as a vanguard art form.

Another interesting exhibit was the Sol LeWitt Drawing Series. It was almost purely mathematical when I saw the brief calculations for every line design. The monumental wall drawings were so precise. There were patterns of lines in all four directions (vertical, horizontal, left and right diagonal), straight and not straight, touching and not touching, solid and broken, gridded and arced, as well as those most basic of geometric figures, the circle, square, and triangle. LeWitt stated, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work” and “All decisions are made beforehand, so execution becomes a perfunctory affair.” He really brought out the meaning of Conceptualism, focusing on a different kind of aesthetic that we don’t normally think of as art.

The interactive exhibit in Dia: Beacon was Franz Erhard Walther’s ‘Work as Action’. It was fun to be able to participate in making the art that Walther wanted us to see by taking fabric materials such as cloth to replicate what he had in mind. I was with a few of our colleagues to follow the instructions listed for every different activity. I did not quite understand Walther’s message of having the viewers act to the art until I learned that he said, “I kept trying to show that what I was offering was not real action relationships but rather demonstration situations. Practice situations.”

Last but not least, the creepiest part of the entire museum was definitely the basement. The atmosphere to begin with was dark and eerie. One of the first things I came upon was something I still have with me right now- Bruce Nauman’s giant long pink sheet of paper titled “Body Pressure” that gives step-by-step instruction on what to do. It reminded me of the Walther ‘Work as Action’ exhibit, but this was definitely on a more intimate level. The first step is “Press as much of the front surface of your body (palms in or out, left or right cheek) against the wall as possible,” while the last step is “Concentrate on tension in the muscles, pain where bones meet, fleshy deformations that occur under pressure; consider body hair, perspiration, odors (smells).” The last sentence at the very bottom is “This may become very exotic exercise.” Till this day, I still haven’t tried it because I’m honestly a bit freaked out at what this exercise would do to me. As for the rest of the basement, I was so glad to have Joey and Adrian with me because everywhere, you see spooky broadcastings of different sorts, as if you were in a scary movie or haunted house. Yet it was so fantastic to feel this way in a museum.

December 20, 2011   No Comments

The Stages of the American Dream on the Walls of ICP

During our class visit to the International Center of Photography, I decided to focus on the Peter Sekaer exhibit called “Signs of Life.” Sekaer was a Depression-era photographer who had spent a good part of his photographic career as a documentarian committed to social change. I noticed that the unknown and unrecognized who populate his images appear quite natural and at ease in front of his camera. To some, the photographs can appear quite boring, their documentary style capturing neither drama nor contemplation. However, that is the point Sekaer wanted to bring out through his art. I believe he wanted his audience to reflect upon the dismal state of the American dream amidst a failure of capitalism. The precise details of poverty and lack of poetic intrusions demonstrate what this failure looks like. One of the photographs that I felt brought out Sekaer’s style and intention was “Anniston, Alabama, 1936.” You see four African-American men standing around a movie theater’s outside stairwell. The stairs are marked in large white letters with the word “colored;” a movie poster for the latest Tarzan film during that time, “Call of the Savage” is mounted to the brick wall and hovers over the men. I appreciate how astutely Sekaer juxtaposes poverty and social injustice, presenting Technicolor Hollywood and working classmen in the same setting. I also thought about how Sekaer may be hinting at underlying traces of racial prejudice that became a huge issue in the later decades by capturing African-American men standing next to a sign that says, “COLORED” that people often associate with African-Americans.

While walking around the different exhibits, I took note of the placement of each exhibit, particularly of “Signs of Life” and “Harper’s Bazaar A Decade of Style.” The main floor represented the state of the American dream. I was walking through Sekaer’s black-and-white photographs, mounted on dark green walls, to arrive at the bright pink and white walls that feature more flamboyant and exotic statements of design and social status. From one footstep to the next, I traveled from the poverty of the 1930s to the celebrity dreams that fill so much of our public life today. It is as if I were standing on a thin threshold between the past and present of what makes up the American society.

December 20, 2011   No Comments

What does it mean to have a gender?: Final Project

Here is me and Connie’s final project. We analyzed Diane Arbus’s photograph A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street. We hope you enjoy!

December 19, 2011   No Comments

My Visit to ICP

On my visit to ICP recently, I explored the relatively small number of exhibits there and enjoyed a few of them. One of them was a picture of Times Square in the early 1900s. It was an interesting picture because it displayed a historic war monument that was there, but in the background you can see the neon lights and advertisements that would soon take over Times Square. The picture was taken in a time when Times Square was going through its transformation to becoming that entertainment center we all know it as, and it’s interesting to see it being it contrasted with a historic monument.

The 9/11 part of the exhibit was interesting, and also quite graphic. One of the pictures that really stood out to me was one where there were a couple of firefighters lying down near all the debris. At first I thought that they were just resting, or maybe even sleeping, because they have been working so hard. Then I realized that it looked like they were not alive. I couldn’t know for sure because there was no photo description. It just was all really shocking. It’s hard for me to comprehend the deaths of all the people who passed on that day, especially if I can’t do so for a couple of firemen. And I’m still not sure if they were dead or not. That photo really got me thinking and feeling for what happened that day…

December 15, 2011   No Comments

Brooklyn Museum

On our trip to the Brooklyn Museum, I noticed that a wide variety of exhibits were displayed in the museum. From displays of rooms in houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to a tree/piano piece, it definitely seemed like the Brooklyn Museum did not have a particular art theme as in other museums, like Beacon. I particularly enjoyed the room display; it gave a first-hand view of what living conditions were like for people in those times, something I find fascinating.

The Dinner Party, as pointed out by others in the class, was a very feminist art display. The piece looks very quiet and passive, yet, it really displays some very strong themes. But, because this is all passive, I don’t consider it pornography as others have. The piece displays what seems like a dinner party with a bunch of other things that seem out of place, like the words in the center of the table and the art pieces on the plates. Yes, “art pieces” and not “pornography.” The piece merely displays things that at first glance don’t mean anything, and after personal interpretation, some find it to symbolize other things. The fact that interpretation is needed to get to that conclusion of the meaning of the piece doesn’t mean it’s pornography. It’s just good art.

December 14, 2011   No Comments

A Glorious Institution

Way back in October, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Connie, Maryam, and some of her friends. This might have been the eighth time I visited the Met in the last two years. But every time I go back, I discover something new or I rediscover something old. This time, I discovered the roof. Actually, Maryam pitched this idea. I had never been on the roof of the Met before and this was the last day it was going to be open for until next year.

The view was spectacular, particularly due to the strange forms of the clouds that floated amongst the skyscrapers. It was cold that afternoon, but the intensity of the blue sky was just too breathtaking for me to run back inside to the warm. And an hour later, the sky began to change colors, to a marvelous pink and a deep orange. I would live on the clouds if I could.

What I noticed about the roof was that most visitors walked right past the sculptors to look at the view and take pictures. Let that not mislead you, though. The sculptures were interesting, abstract in form and some vibrant in color. And they were huge, hard to miss in another location. But I guess the view overshadowed the art.

Afterwards, we went through the later (as opposed to medieval) European paintings and sculptures gallery. I’ve walked through this specific gallery countless times. I remember a month or so before this visit, in August or September, I went to the Met just to look at the artwork in this gallery and I spent hours walking through and through the gallery looking for Jean-Leon Gerome’s Galatea and Pygmalion, only to discover that it wasn’t on view. But each time I walk through this maze-like gallery, I discover new paintings that I adore.

As if this trip wasn’t enough, I returned the next week! (But for a completely different reason.) I went back to find an artwork to analyze for my CORC Art midterm paper. And I spent hours just in the European Decorative Arts and Sculptures gallery, carefully looking at hundreds of sculptures. I even stayed until the kicked me out. Oh the things I do for school. But, no complaints. I love visiting museums, especially at night when the attendance is low and the mood is romantic. In fact, I strolled through the sculpture court with live lounge/jazz music playing next to me. I felt high-class.

December 14, 2011   No Comments

Brooklyn Museum

The Dinner Party for me was more of a satire than a visual art form. Judy Chicago’s work lampoons what one may guess is her interpretation of the male patriarchy. Religion is parodied with the medieval banners that have texts with a large She. The triangular and suggestive shapes that abound are there to contrast with traditional monuments that can consist of an (arguably phallic) pillar (e.g. The Washington Monument), the stern clothed or sexless unclothed romantic figures (e.g. Statue of Liberty, Arc de Triomphe), or massive landmarks (Trafalgar Square). The triangle formed by the table challenges traditional hierarchy because there is not real head (the medieval atmosphere also seems to reference King Arthur’s Round Table). The setting itself mocks custom, for indeed a Dinner Party is not the place of commemoration or rallying but more of a private victory toast. I did not know most of the women, according to the Brooklyn Museum’s website, “commemorat[ed]” in the piece, which did not help me gain any cathartic feeling that it seems I was supposed to get. For me the Dinner Party was mostly a good laugh.

An artwork I found more interesting (or at least aesthetically appealing) but equally iconoclastic was Kehinde Wiley’s Go. It is a painting that features young black men falling through the sky. Some of them have strange halos over their heads. The painting is on the ceiling, directly above the viewer. Directly under it are some comfortable couches. There are also similar pieces on the walls around. The general technique of the artwork (realism) as well as its setting have more traditional feel – it seems out of the Sistine Chapel. However, the actual subject of the artwork contrasts a great deal with customary depictions of heaven, saints, and holiness. This gave the viewer an uncanny experience. Yet, unlike the Judy Chicago’s piece, this one could be looked at and enjoyed even without its newness context. This makes it truly great.

Another great exhibit was the juxtaposed recreations of a traditional New England home and a traditional Southern home. I find that there is a tinge of hypocrisy the way we Northerners (that is, my classmates that were with me except Michael), see the Southern home is something by far more attractive, yet we probably have more negative stereotypes attached to the South than any other part of the country.

December 12, 2011   No Comments