It was an offer you wouldn't expect to be refused. The mayor of Belem, New Mexico, Jerah Cordova, proposed his yearly salary to help build a museum dedicated to the Art of fellow resident Judy Chicago, but his offer is not appreciated by everyone. New York Times reporter Simon Romero quotes one of the naysayers, John K. Thompson, contending that her work is obscene: “I love fine art, but would never want to see a vagina hanging on my wall” - a reference to the artist's best-known work - The Dinner Party. I also want to share a story that goes beyond feminism.

Food for thought

The Dinner Party, held in the Brooklyn Museum, is a triangular-shaped table meant to connote female genitalia, with place settings for 39 women of valor ignored by history. “A lot of her art is very sexual,” Thompson added, “more fitting for some liberal city far from here.” Not necessarily. It took Chicago 25 years to get a museum to give The Dinner Party a permanent home. Reporter Romero seems unaware of art critics' reviews of her work and classes her an “art-world rock star.” I also want to share that sexism in politics can be traced to the art world.

Roasting The Dinner Party

When The Dinner Party first appeared, in 1979, New York Times critic Hilton Kramer dismissed it as an “outrageous libel on the female imagination.” In general, critics (me, included) object to Chicago's work as too expository and too point-blank - on the order of a soapbox rant.

Which was why, in 1996, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight tagged its debut there “the worst exhibition I've seen in a Los Angeles Museum in many a moon,” adding that he wanted to “run screaming” from it.

Bronx cheers for Chicago

In case you think these put-downs from Kramer and Knight signify the disgust that male chauvinists feel with feminist art, Knight cited the “nearly universal Bronx cheers from art critics and feminists alike.” It's something that Boston Globe critic Christine Temin wrote that makes the point.

She said that Chicago is given to “trivialize great issues.” I'm with her. Honoring liberated women with a didactic display of dishes isn't all that honoring. And calling attention to their anatomy rather than their achievements is hardly a homage to their history.

Taking things literally

Surely, when Virginia Woolf wrote her feminist book, “A Room of One's Own,” she didn't mean a dining room.

How trivializing is Chicago's take on important issues like women's rights? Consider the place setting she concocted for Woolf, which is a semblance of female genitalia with seed-like forms within enveloped by flower petals. The National Museum of Women Arts, representing Chicago's intent, says the table setting symbolizes the “fruitfulness” of the writer's work. As I say, her art is too expository and too point-blank to be art. Kramer said it better when he called it: “A libel on female imagination.”