No Modesty in Show of `Sexual Politics': Critical Response Shows L.A. `Not Land Taste Forgot'

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - It takes some doing to raise eyebrows in the entertainment capital of the world, where sexual display has long been a mainstay.

"Sexual Politics," an exhibit running through Aug. 18 at the prestigious Armand Hammer Museum of Art, features Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," which forms a 140-foot equilateral triangle depicting stylized - imagined - private parts of 39 historically important women.

They range from Sappho to Susan B. Anthony and Georgia O'Keeffe, who was said to have been appalled to have her name included with the work, which was created in the 1970s with the help of a $36,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This is the same exhibit that caused demonstrations at the University of the District of Columbia in the fall of 1990 when it was revealed that the school's trustees had agreed to raise $1.6 million in bonds to acquire and exhibit the controversial sculpture. Angry students occupied university buildings for nearly two weeks before the artist rescinded her offer to donate the piece.

That such an exhibit would be considered serious art "is a vocal pagan voice speaking in our society that is almost demanding that traditional values be abandoned," says the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Orange County-based Traditional Values Coalition.

"When you lose your modesty," he asks, "what do you have left for the next generation?"

Other critics have called the work pornographic and some feminists charge that it reinforces masculine notions of "greatness." Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight termed it a "blunder," a "fiasco" and "the worst exhibition I've seen in a Los Angeles museum in many a moon."

"It's always disappointing to come upon an ambitious but failed work of art, like `The Dinner Party,' " he wrote. "But to witness a museum actively participate in the trivialization of art is infinitely worse."

Museum officials insist that the show has been a hit. "It has a really large following among non-art-specialists and non-feminists," says guest curator Amelia Jones.

PBS film critic Michael Medved calls "The Dinner Party" "feminist kitsch" that, "outside of its ideological contents, is ludicrous and laughable."

"Even the usual suspects didn't fall for this," says Mr. …