On The Avenue

Making Herstory at the Brooklyn Museum

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Steven Ferdman/PMC and Jerry Speier for the Brooklyn Museum
Friday, October 20, 2017

The Brooklyn Museum’s Yes! Gala celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art last night was a joyful, much-needed reminder that women are more empowered than ever.

Some of the city’s most outspoken feminists, among them Gloria Steinem and First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, gathered to celebrate the Center’s unique role. “There really is no other place like it,” said McCray, herself acclaimed for her literary output with the feminist Combahee River Collective in the 1970s. “To see a place that documents or highlights the contributions of female artists the way that it does with the depth and dimension and range illustrating so many different types of art—it’s wondrous! It attracts a really wide swath of women, young and old—and men too—who have a great appreciation for feminist art.”

The stars of the evening—even more than the Center itself—were the groundbreaking women who were honored over the course of the evening. Among them were the artist Judy Chicago, who shared stories from a long life and career in a lively, wide-ranging discussion with Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak. Chicago told the audience about a formative experience at UCLA, when a professor of European history derided women’s contributions to intellectual history, saying “they have none!” It was this widespread erasure of women’s history, that would ultimately inspire Chicago to create her monumental installation The Dinner Party, now an important part of the Sackler Center’s collection and the subject of a new exhibition.


The evening also saw the presentation of the Center’s First awards to a inspiring group of “sheroes,” including Ruth Simmons, the first female president of an Ivy League University; Kathy Kusner, the first female jockey; and the writers of Our Bodies, Ourselves, the groundbreaking manual on women’s health and sexuality. (“You taught me how to masturbate!” one woman shouted out as the book’s authors accepted their award.) Other awardees included Deborah Berke, Jodi Archambault Gillette, Judith Jamison, Carol Jenkins, Roberta Kaplan, Rita Moreno and, posthumously, Shirley Chisholm and Edie Windsor. “Are you feeling a little prickly feeling under foot?” journalist Laura Flanders asked the audience. “That’s the feeling of so many shattered ceilings.”

After the award ceremony had ended, guests made their way to the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court, to a triangular table arrangement meant to echo—what else?—The Dinner Party.


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