The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art establishes a vital new venue and focal point within the Brooklyn Museum. The design for the new Center creates a visually distinctive environment symbolic of the Museum's commitment to creating a permanent home for showcasing feminist art and recognizing and exploring the importance of a woman's point of view.
The new Center occupies 8,300 square feet on the Museum's fourth floor. The Center includes permanent and changing exhibit galleries, a study center, and presentation space to promote dialogue and exchange about the exhibits and related issues represented in the galleries.
Spatially the plan is organized as a series of distinct yet interconnected experiences. Judy Chicago's iconic work, The Dinner Party, is the centerpiece of the overall design and is integrally related to the other spaces within the new Center. The primary entrance to the Center is located directly adjacent to the northwest overlook to the Beaux-Arts Court. The sequence begins through a large portal with double glass doors and signage announcing the Center in the transom above.
The overall design is conceived of as a series of concentric layers: the perimeter walls of the nineteenth-century building, the enveloping zone of changing exhibit galleries, and the walls and inner sanctum of The Dinner Party gallery. This strategy serves to reconcile the scale and triangular geometry of The Dinner Party within the rectilinear geometry of the Museum's existing historic structure. A dramatic sculptural threshold immediately inside the entry portal signals the visitor's arrival to the new Center. Defined by the large canting walls and glass membrane of The Dinner Party gallery, this point of arrival permits the visitor anticipatory glimpses of the piece within. Changing exhibit galleries flank all three sides of the central gallery. A small vertical window in the perimeter wall of one of the new galleries provides access to filtered daylight and a visual point of orientation by framing a view of one of the columns of the Museum's portico along Eastern Parkway.
The permanent installation of The Dinner Party begins with a linear gallery along the outer edge of the space adjacent to the entry. This space exhibits the Entry Banners, a series of 6 Aubusson tapestries hung perpendicular to a vivid red wall. Light from overhead fixtures illuminates the Entry Banners, which appear to float within the space. The Dinner Party gallery follows, which the visitor accesses through an aperture at the apex of the triangular space. The sculptural and material qualities of this space contrast with the enveloping ring of flexible "white box" galleries. The Dinner Party gallery's design reinforces the artist's intention to "elevate female achievement in Western history to a heroic scale traditionally reserved for men" by actively engaging viewers with the piece and heightening their understanding of its significance (See www.judychicago.com). The sloped walls of the gallery are lined with large glass tablets that subtly reflect the space and viewers. These tablets enhance the expansiveness of the space and symbolize the ubiquitous influence and timelessness of the "guests," while accentuating the viewer's relationship to them. A counter-clockwise sequence along the perimeter of the table permits close-up viewing of the work's thirty-nine place settings, each celebrating a significant woman in history. A metal lighting armature extends over the visitor's path from the surrounding walls to define the circulation zone and accent each individual place setting. Carefully focused light illuminates the intricate details of each place setting, as well as the luminous quality of the ceramic tile base.
Immediately outside the central gallery, a flexible exhibit gallery presents biographical material about the individuals included in The Dinner Party. Permanently displayed along one edge of this gallery are the Heritage Panels, which document the research for the piece, done by the artist and her team. The panels are mounted vertically and are supported by a series of slender columns, elevating them above the floor and separating the space from the Entry Banners. An angled horizontal visor suspended from these columns caps the panel and provides an indirect light source illuminating the panels below. At each end, a vertical panel terminates the composition and supports a flat screen monitor, which provides additional information about the artwork and biographies of The Dinner Party guests. Adjacent to this gallery is the study center and presentation space. A simple rectangular room, this space has a large pivoting wall that transforms the space from an academic forum into a multimedia gallery as required for ongoing programs. Along one wall is a self-directed study center that features both printed and multimedia materials.
In addition to the technical and architectural challenges presented by an intervention within a nineteenth-century structure, curatorial and conservation requirements for the permanent installation of a fragile artwork had to be addressed. Exterior wall upgrades were designed and contemporary mechanical systems introduced to ensure a stable and comfortable environment. An intelligent lighting control system has been integrated to minimize the work's exposure to light when the galleries are unoccupied.
This overall ensemble of spaces creates a much-anticipated new Center for exhibiting the work of international feminist artists and a forum for an active and ongoing dialogue.