The University of the District of Columbia, in an agreement to be signed tomorrow, plans to provide a new $1.6 million home for a controversial artwork that has spent the last two years in a California warehouse.
Produced during the 1970s by feminist artist Judy Chicago, "The Dinner Party" is an enormous triangle of embroidery and porcelain representing the history of women. The work was controversial both for its sexual imagery and questions about its legitimacy as art. "The Dinner Party" was last exhibited in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988.
The donated artwork will be exhibited in the east wing of UDC's Carnegie Library, at Mount Vernon Square NW. But the size and nature of the artwork require that the building be repaired and renovated before the arrival of "Dinner Party," which is expected to be more than a year from now.
The interior renovation of the building, including removal of the mezzanine, installation of new stairs and elevator and improvement of the heating and cooling systems, will cost about $1.6 million, according to Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works. Hamilton said that repairs for the library, such as a new roof, will cost an additional $650,000. The D.C. Council approved a $1.2 million bond issue last week to cover some of the work.
Nira H. Long, chairman of the UDC board, said yesterday that the acquisition will enable the university to become a "national repository of creative expression that deals with human rights and human freedom."
No other artwork has been acquired as of yet. The project originated with the plan to obtain "The Dinner Party," an idea advanced by UDC trustee Patricia Mathis.
Mathis, a Washington businesswoman, serves as an honorary member of the board of Chicago's nonprofit foundation, Through the Flower Corp., according to board records.
Long said that UDC was reviewing a contract that would pay Mary Jo Aagerstoun, a friend and associate of Mathis's, to administer the "Dinner Party" project. The amount of compensation is uncertain, Long said.
Under the agreement between UDC and Chicago, the university will get "Dinner Party" and Chicago will get a percentage of any revenue earned from the exhibition of the work, Long said.
Trustee Joseph Webb said that the proposed contract between UDC and Chicago provides that 20 percent of admission fees go to maintain the artwork, 10 percent to Chicago and 5 percent to her foundation.
Chicago also would receive a licensing fee for reproduction of images from "Dinner Party," a part of the revenue from fees for video tours and an opportunity to become a member of the UDC faculty, if an endowed chair were established in her name, Webb said.
Chicago is best known for "Dinner Party," which she started in 1973 and completed with the help of 400 craftswomen in 1979.
Michael Botwinick, a former director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, once said, "The debate that always surrounds Judy is the extent to which she is a mainstream painter."
"Dinner Party," which measures 46 1/2 feet on each of its three sides, is set with 39 place settings, each one with a painted porcelain plate signifying a woman from the past.
"It's like a feminist 'Last Supper,' " said Henry Hopkins, who was director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when the work was first shown.