Last Thursday, the art world zoomed in on Judy Chicago. The feminist, activist, educator, and artist was the honoree of 2020’s MAD Ball, the Museum of Arts and Design’s annual event which unfolded virtually for the first time ever.
“Hello everyone, everywhere,” came a voice as the event began. “Zoomers and YouTubers, I’m MX Justin Vivian Bond and I’m coming to you live from a glorious house of whimsy in upstate New York, where I am fortunate enough to be your host this evening.”
Last year, the event honored the Haas Brothers and took place at Cipriani 42nd Street. The space had, appropriately, been giving the Haas treatment: trippy mushroom decor and centerpieces filled with campy gold-panted palm fronds. It was a memorable experience, but this year’s event was perhaps more in line with the museum’s democratic philosophy. Never before could it be attended by so many people, all over the world. “Go ahead and send messages, this is the people’s chat!” Bond announced, encouraging attendees to connect via the Zoom chat room.
The format of the evening was as follows: MAD’s chair Michele Cohen gave opening remarks and then curators Elissa Auther and Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy sang Chicago’s praises. Both were dressed up for the occasion (at least from the waist-up)—Auther wore a yellow feathered boa and Vizcarrondo-Laboy sported rainbow face paint so striking she should have included a tutorial on the look.
Next up was Rosanne Cash. “Thank you for the decades of inspiration,” Cash said. “You’ve cleared a path for young women all over the world and we owe you a great debt.” Before dedicating a song to Chicago, she added, “I hope this is the beginning of a slew of awards and honors in the year of the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote.”
Chicago is perhaps best known for her triangular dinner party installation from 1979, now at the Brooklyn Museum. In the work, Chicago improves on history and gives women a proverbial seat at the table. The art piece features 39 settings, each dedicated to a female trailblazer ranging from Sacajawea to Susan B. Anthony.
It’s a piece that remains enduringly pertinent despite the 40 or so years since its conception. The piece’s success has much to do with its straightforwardness, as the artist extrapolated in a New York Times op-ed published shortly after the world locked down this spring. Chicago called upon her fellow artists to create meaningful, society-shifting works that speak to the public in a language that could be understood by all.
“Can you hear me? Can you see me?” asked Chicago, streaming in from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico as she received her Lifetime Achievement Award in the form of a tiara—a yonic, pink velvet headpiece with spoons inspired by the cutlery in Chicago’s famous artwork. “This is what I have to say: I don’t exactly know how to feel about being crowned… I have gotten a number of awards and I have to say this tops them all.”
Meanwhile, over in Manhattan. Alexander Hankin, the trustee of MAD’s young patrons group, MAD Luminaries, opted to celebrate Chicago and her Dinner Party in a lovely and literal way. By welcoming friends Timo Weiland, Shantell Martin, Fischer Cherry, and Mia Wright-Ross at a socially distanced, masks-on viewing party for the Mad Ball. It was a masquerade ball for the year 2020. And yes, Judy, we hear you loud and clear!