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AUTHOR AND ARTS CRITIC

101/ My Fantasy Dinner Party by Chloë Ashby

We’re thrilled to share our third edition of journals by author and arts critic Chloë Ashby. In this fun fictional piece, Chloë paints a picture of her fantasy dinner party, from the artists and writers she’d invite, to the spot, food and topics of conversation.

Hosted by Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum, this dinner party includes the best decor, from hand-embroidered runners, themed ceramic plates, and golden chalices through which the wine flows freely. Chloë closes the piece with a list of her favourite Partnership Editions works she’d hang on the walls surrounding the star-studded table.

 
 
 
 

Judy Chicago offers to host us at the Brooklyn Museum, and her table settings get everyone talking. Embroidered runners and napkins, golden chalices, clunky utensils, and the pièce de résistance: porcelain plates that look like vaginas. The table is a gigantic triangle, with room for thirty nine, so the five of us tip-tap our way across the porcelain floor tiles and take our seats on one wing. Judy insists that Emily Dickinson sit at her personal place setting, all frilly layers of ceramic lace, pale pink – a nod to the frivolity our mind-bendingly brilliant poet is up against.

 
 
 
 

I part my lips to ask Judy who’s doing the cooking when Nora Ephron appears brandishing a couple of bowls of sorrel soup. Everything we’re eating tonight, she tells us, features in her new novel, Heartburn. Édouard Manet rolls his eyes, mumbles the words ‘shameless self-promotion’, and I give him a light kick in the shin and remind him that he’s lucky to be here, at a table laid only for women. He smiles politely and reaches for the salt shaker.

 
 
 
 

The soup is cold and very green but pleasantly lemony. In between slurps, talk turns to the Bloomsberries and what a shame it is that Virginia and Vanessa’s flight into JFK was cancelled. Édouard’s fellow artist and sister-in-law Berthe Morisot was particularly looking forward to meeting the writer who does with words what she does in paint: pay attention to the everyday.

 
 
 
 

When we’re all finished, Nora stands up to clear, and Édouard, who’s doing his very best to avoid staring at his vulva-shaped place setting, swiftly pushes his chair away from the table and hops up, too. I realise that Emily hasn’t said anything since we sat down, and instead is hunched over her napkin, quietly jotting down a poem, something to do with hope and feathers. 

There’s one other woman I haven’t spoken yet to, though I’ve been admiring her across table, beautiful and vivacious with a platinum blonde bob. Her name is Pauline Boty. When I ask what she’s working on right now, she pulls an iPhone from her pocket and shows me a partially completed painting of a stage set and a fleshy pair of bare buttocks. I laugh out loud. Judy says it’s the best thing she’s seen in months.

 
 
 
 

The main is served. Linguine alla cecca, announces Nora with a flourish. Pasta with a garlicky tomato sauce and fresh basil leaves. Édouard passes a plate to Berthe, then goes around topping up everyone’s chalices. Judy raises a toast to the chef, and to the very many other great women who can’t be with us today. The wine flows freely.

Édouard follows Emily’s lead and starts sketching Berthe on his napkin. When he hands it over for her to see, she sketches him in return. At this point, Leonora Carrington arrives – better late than never! she says with a grin – and suggests a game. Soon we’re all passing a napkin between us, each person adding a body part and then folding it over so the following person can’t see what came before. The result: rounded shoulders, a bikini bod, butterfly wings.

For pudding, a creamy key lime pie that’s deliciously tart. Nora laughingly tells us how her heroine throws it in her philandering husband’s face, then clasps a hand over her mouth when she realises she’s ruined the surprise. To make her feel better, we all promise to pre-order the book – she tells us it helps.

Coffee? Fresh mint tea? Judy takes our orders. There are chocolates, too.

When we’re done, and we’ve said our goodbyes, Pauline, Emily and I split an Uber.

 
 
 
 

FOLLOW CHLOË

@chloelashby
www.chloeashby.com

Chloë Ashby is an author and arts critic who has written for publications such as The TimesTLSGuardianSpectator and frieze. She is the author of Colours of Art: The Story of Art in 80 Palettes, a Times best book of 2022. Her debut novel, Wet Paint, was published in April 2022, and her second novel, Second Self, in July 2023.



                                      The artworks we’d have on the walls

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