This Day In History: March 14

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On March 14, 1979, Judy Chicago’s art installation "The Dinner Party" opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The piece remains one of the most famous—and controversial—works of feminist art.

"The Dinner Party" consists of ceremonial place settings for 39 real and mythical women from history. These place settings sit atop a massive triangular-shaped table, 48 feet per side. Below the table, its "Heritage Floor" base is inscribed with the names of 998 other real and mythical women (plus one person whom scholars first identified as a woman and later identified as a man). In all, the artwork honors 1,038 women, from Egyptian queen Hatshepsut and medieval warrior queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to poet Emily Dickinson and suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Each place setting has a unique embroidered runner bearing the name of the woman it represents. The place settings also have gold chalices, utensils and ceramic plates, most of which feature vulvar and vaginal imagery. Completion of the installation took several years and the collaboration of about 400 people

"The Dinner Party" installation received mixed reviews when it debuted. Some praised it as a seminal piece of feminist art that highlights women’s place in history, while others criticized the genitally inspired imagery as vulgar. A planned donation of the piece to the University of the District of Columbia had to be scrapped after the U.S. Senate threatened to withhold funding from the school if it accepted what one lawmaker called “3-D ceramic pornography.” One of the most enduring criticisms is that the piece reflects a white, western bias. Almost all the real women who have place settings at the table are white Americans and Europeans.

Two notable exceptions are Sacagawea (spelled “Sacajawea” in “The Dinner Party”), a Lemhi Shoshone woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a teenage girl; and Sojourner Truth, a Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth’s place setting at "The Dinner Party" is notably one of two without vulvar imagery.

Since March 23, 2007, "The Dinner Party" has been on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.