Judy Chicago, feminist artist, breezed into the reception held in her honor last night, fresh from travels to Chicago and New York, claiming a little disorientation but not showing it.
"I went to see the I.M. Pei building today," she said of the East Building of the National Gallery. "It's just another monument to the male ego and it's not a good place for art."
This was said with casual aplomb and a bit of solicitude for the art.
She then launched into discussion of her art-work, already the topic among the guests. Many were from the National Women's Political Caucus. which gave the party at the softly lit, art-filled house of Marilyn and Hal Weiner, owners of a film company called Screenscope.
Chicago is in town for a sold-out lecture which she will give tonight at Baird Auditorium of the Smithsonian Institution on her controversial paintings on china plates called "The Dinner Party." The paintings symbolize different women in history and mythology.
"Sold out in August!" said Janet Solinger, head of the Smithsonian's Resident Associate Program. "Our auditorium seats 565. We've turned away 150 asking for tickets so far."
"The Dinner Party" was exhibited in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to record crowds for three months. "There was just an overwhelming response - 100,000 people saw it," said Chicago's assistant, Diane Gelon."They waited in lines to see it. They waited in hallways.They began waiting at 8 in the morning."
"Little old ladies in tennis shoes came to see it," said Loretta Barrett of Anchor Press/Doubleday, which published a book on the exhibit. "I don't think they knew what they were looking at," she said with a smile about the sexually evocative work.
But then the exhibit ran into trouble. "It was supposed to go to Seattle, but Seattle said they ran out of space," said Barrett. "It was supposed to go to Rochester, but Rochester said they had irreconcilable differences (with the artist). Judy wanted the community involved. In San Francisco there was one day of seminars with women."
"Isn't this incredible?" Chicago said to the Smithsonian's Solinger. "I feel like I'm up against a wall."
Meanwhile, her art work waits. "The pieces are in crates and we're paying $1,000 a month in storage and insurance," said Chicago. "And we're getting hundreds of phone calls at the studio. We're getting hundreds of letters. When it is coming?" People from Minneapolis, people from Toronto call. They couldn't believe what happened in Rochester. They couldn't believe it." She swung her arms, chopping at the air.
"I think museums are outraged by the female sexual imagery in her work," said Iris Mitgang, national director of the National Women's Political Caucus, for which Chicago just completed a limited edition serigraph. "But the use of male sexual imagery in art has been constant through history and no one's offended."
Lawyer Susan Chaires, sporting a button that read "The Dinner Party," spearheads an effort to find a place to exhibit "The Dinner Party" in Washington next spring. "We're hoping to prove that there's not insufficient interest," she said, referring to one museum's reason for denying a show. CAPTION: Picture, Judy Chicago, by Ken Feil - The Washington Post