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Virtual Dining Table at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Page history last edited by kmenach1@johnshopkins.edu 12 years, 7 months ago

Project Title:  Virtual Dining Table (Part of the Splendor By the Hour Exhibition in the European Arts Wing) 

Museum/ Institution: Detroit Institute of Arts - Detroit, MI

Media Category: Virtual Table

Program Created:  Opened in early 2008 

Program URL:  






Project Image(s) and/or Video



Media Source(s)/Credit(s):

Photo from About.com - Detroit (http://detroit.about.com/od/artsentertainment/ss/DIA_3.htm) - 2011.

Video from Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9srgK-2u9HI) - 2011.


Program Description: 

The Virtual Dining Table is one part of the larger Splendor By the Hour exhibition in the European Arts Wing, which is meant to give the visitor a sense of a "day in the life" of a wealthy European aristocrat and how the artifacts in the exhibition would have been used. The table is your evening entertainment. Upon pushing a button on the side of the table the time is projected across the table top from a projector in the ceiling and then the various plates, silver and cutlery are laid out in front of you. To heighten the experience, surround sound allows you to hear the clink of glasses, the rustling of linen and the whispers of servants speaking in French. 


Course after course is laid out, with quick flashes of the names of dishes being ladled out of tureens and on to your plate as well as the names of some of the more exotic tableware that one would otherwise not be familiar with. Most notable is the large silver "epergne" (tiered centerpiece) which is also prominently displayed in a case adjacent to the table (see photo above.) After several courses, with new foods and tableware appearing each time, the table is cleared one last time and your "meal" is over. 


Firsthand or secondary review/critique: 

I learned about the Virtual Dining Table at a conference in 2007 where presenters from the DIA let us preview sections of the video. I was excited to see it in person, as the project seemed unique and exciting. Unfortunately, the realities of the exhibit space and its construction take away from the Virtual Dining Table experience. The snippets of video I had seen projected on a screen at the conference were diminished in quality on the table itself. Part of this is due to the actual table, which is laminated and has a faint grid pattern in it. This serves to make the projected video look pixilated. Then there is the problem of location. The "dining room" is immediately adjacent to the main thoroughfare of the exhibition and the noise of people walking by almost completely overwhelms the delicate clinking and whispered French that diners are supposed to enjoy. I know how much work the DIA staff put in to capturing those small details and it is too bad they are likely going unnoticed by most visitors. 


On a more positive note, I appreciated being able to see many of the pieces that were used in the video on exhibit (especially the very grand epergne) and I think the idea of showing how they were used in context is an excellent one. Even with the problems, the novelty of being "served" and the uniqueness of what I was seeing held me for the duration of the dining experience (a little over 5 minutes.)


Technologies incorporated:

Video Projection, Surround Sound, Push-Button Control 


Internally or externally produced:

Produced, acted and translated externally with museum staff providing the artifacts and interpretation


Entry Contributor and Date: Krista Menacher :: 1/28/2011


Related projects:   

Other sections of the Splendor By the Hour Exhibition in the European Art Wing, including a Virtual Music Room 

Comments (4)

Mary Whitworth said

at 11:22 pm on Jan 28, 2011

I really like your review and your presentation here.

Mary Kate du Laney said

at 4:35 pm on Feb 1, 2011

This looks like such an amazing piece! I have been looking for more interactive "tables" and think more museums need to add the feature. Great review!

Leah Juster said

at 11:00 pm on Feb 1, 2011

I had heard about this last semester in my Exhibition Strategies class. It's great to hear a review from someone who actually has seen it in person!

Scott Sayre said

at 6:14 pm on May 8, 2011

This is very similar to the dining room table installation in the Minnesota Historical Society's Open House exhibit. Nice review.

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