Feminist Art in Brooklyn: From The Dinner Party To Killer Heels

photo 2

Notable art openings are a wonderfully inevitable part of New York City in the fall, just like pumpkin spice lattes and orange leaves falling in Central Park. This year, the locus of fantastic feminist art is in Brooklyn – where I had the pleasure to explore new and permanent exhibits this past weekend.

Judy Chicago was the first artist to coin the term “feminist art” — her masterpiece is “The Dinner Party,” in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum. A retrospective of her early career just closed on Sunday, so I was able to see this seminal piece in the context of her other work – clearly illustrating her trajectory from woman artist to creator of iconic feminist art.

“The Dinner Party” depicts place settings for 39 famous historical and mythical women, starting with goddesses of prehistory and ending with painter Georgia O’Keefe. The long table is triangular, evoking the shape of a vulva, and each plate plays on Chicago’s butterfly vagina concept. The project took 6 years, cost $250,000, and required the help of more than 400 people – when you see it in person you can understand why. It’s spectacularly huge and immaculately detailed, from the names and designs embroidered onto each table runner, to the white “heritage floor” with the names of hundreds of other historical women engraved. Each woman’s place setting tells the stories of many others that couldn’t fit at the table, and they are all honored in a separate room displaying a series of wall panels with details about every woman’s life and contribution to history.

The Dinner Party
The Dinner Party

Since Judy Chicago invented feminist art in the 1970s, it’s grown and exploded into every possible medium, and it takes a very interesting turn in “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe,” running  through February 15th at the Brooklyn Museum, after which the show will tour nationally. As sexy and dangerous as the title suggests, this was unlike any exhibit I’ve seen. Two-hundred eighteen shoes are on display in glass cases, dating back to 1550. From shoes worn by Geishas and courtesans to 3-D printed shoes, the show explores the ancient past and near future of footwear.

Walking through the exhibit it’s hard not to feel like you’re going to topple over yourself, as most of these shoes are not meant for walking – they’re meant for eroticizing. And perhaps that’s part of the allure of ridiculously high heels – mastering the art of the strut in such unwieldy footwear can give confidence to the clumsiest of souls.

Walter Steiger, Unicorn Tayss, Spring 2013
Walter Steiger, Unicorn Tayss, Spring 2013

There’s no shortage of contemporary fashion here –Louboutin, Balenciaga, Ferragamo and Christian Dior are all part of the spectacle.

My favorite part was the six videos playing on a loop in semi-private rooms throughout the exhibit. This is where the feminist in feminist art really came through for me. Videos by Nick Knight, Steven Klein, Marilyn Minter, and Rashaad Newsome were surreal, political and provocative. Glamor and fetish are un-apologetically explored here.

Still from Steven Klein's video, Untitled 791, 2014
Still from Steven Klein’s video, Untitled 791, 2014

As tall, sultry and powerful as a high heel can make us feel, it’s hard to overlook the absurdist objectification we play into when we shop for and wear them. By no means am I immune to a killer heel; I practically swooned when I spied the stunning Damien Hirst boot pictured here.

Damien Hirst, Dot Boot, 2002
Damien Hirst, Dot Boot, 2002

After touring this exhibit, I won’t give up my shoe-addiction, but I’ll never look at a stiletto the same way again.

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of “Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable”  (Ten Speed Press/Crown Publishing, 2010) and eight other books. Stefanie keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more for many publications. Follow Stefanie @ecosexuality.

Related on EcoSalon

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

40 Quotes About Feminism

Sexual Assault Survivors Use Art For Justice

Images via Stefanie Iris Weiss






Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at ecosex.net and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.