The new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art opens on March 23 at the Brooklyn Museum. Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, the Sackler Center is the firm’s second notable addition to the 19th-century Beaux Arts building after the entry plaza and pavilion transformed the entrance in 2004.
The Sackler Center takes its major aesthetic and cultural cues from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974–79), to which it gives a permanent home. Chicago and her collaborators built a triangular dinner table with place settings for 39 historically important women. By giving women a literal place at the table (and by commemorating nearly a thousand others through dedicated floor tiles) the piece demands recognition that women and women’s work are vital to the history of Western culture.
Originally destined for a museum of its own in New Mexico, Chicago’s monumental piece of art posed challenges for the Brooklyn Museum. On a thematic level, its iconoclasm challenges the gender based assumptions upon which many traditional museum exhibitions are based; on an aesthetic level, it proclaims its distinctiveness but has chosen not to keep itself apart. Around it—underpinned by it—the galleries of the new Sackler Center radiate concentrically before giving way to the museum’s existing galleries for the decorative arts. Triangular portals and glass walls offer visibility between The Dinner Party and the feminist art in the surrounding galleries. The artworks establish complex reciprocal relationships that echo outwards in the rapport between the Sackler Center and the museum and between the museum and the city. Visitors enjoy filtered sunlight and a view of one of the columns of the museum’s portico through a new window on a perimeter wall. By occupying a place at the heart of the museum’s art and history, the Sackler Center aims to translate its presence into the same symbolic reinscription of women into cultural history that Chicago achieved with her piece.
The Sackler Center also features a study area and space for public and educational programs. The gallery spaces will open with Global Feminisms, the first international exhibition dedicated to feminist art from 1990 to the present (opening March 23 and on view through July 1). The 80 artists whose work will be on display represent a variety of nations and media, but are united in their concern to make feminist art responsive to its ever-broadening contexts. As project architect Susan T. Rodriguez put it, the intention of orbiting the galleries around the The Dinner Party gallery is to show a “trajectory of the ongoing evolution” of feminist art and history. “The gallery shows that what has been omitted from history is now becoming a part of the museum.”