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Gastro-Vision: The Best in Food-Art 2010

Martin Parr, "Untitled," from the "British Food" series, 1995. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos. Courtesy Getty Center.

From cotton candy rooms to painterly cakes, meaty dresses to pork rind sculpture, pickle portraiture to animated toast, this year was chock-full of good “food-art” — food inspired by art and art inspired by or involving food. So much so, that it would have been gluttonous to write this year-in-review by myself. For this post I enlisted the help of two art writers who share my passion for all things food: Andrew Russeth of the blog 16 Miles of String, and Megan Fizell of the blog Feasting on Art. Together, we’ve come up with a list of the year’s best. You might want to grab a bib in case you start to drool.

Best Food-Art Exhibition (Non-Edible): In Focus: Tasteful Pictures, Getty Center *

From 19th-century daguerreotypes to contemporary still life photography, In Focus: Tasteful Pictures contextualized the mechanical image within the genre. Paired with the recent Getty publication, Still Life in Photography, the exhibition provided a historic focus to the way art depicts our increasingly complicated relationship to food within a globalized world. With photographs by Henri-Victor Regnault, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Bill Owens, and Taryn Simon, few museums could draw such a feast from their collection. (MF, NC)

Paul Shore and Nicole Root, "L-Wafers (After Robert Morris)," 2010. Sugar Wafers and gum. Courtesy the artists.

Best Food-Art Exhibition (Edible): Licked Sucked Stacked Stuck, Brattelboro Museum & Art Center *

Art historian Nicole Root and artist Paul Shore create sweets that are modeled on iconic contemporary artworks. They baked a brownie to reconstruct, at a miniature scale, Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room, and broke Necco wafers to form a Richard Long stone floor sculpture. Other times they opt for assisted readymades, as when they built Robert Morris’s classic mid-1960s block sculptures from sugar wafers and gum. The meticulous care that Root and Shore bring to their work suggest that they are loving tribute artists, but there is also a hint of subversion in many of the more than 70 works they have completed, which are often the “opposite of [the] serious, large-scale, large-budget works,” as Root once put it, describing a plan she and Shore hatched for a Richard Serra made of taffy. Grand and grandiose hallmarks of postwar art are shrunken down and rendered out of everyday materials, and the mystery and majesty of their source works is at least somewhat diminished. Of course, the pair’s work is no more open to the touch (or ready for the eating) than the art they transfigure. (AR)

Robert Watts, "Chocolate Cream Pie," 1964, Aluminum, 2 ½” x 5” x 5”, Courtesy of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Gift of Bernard and Florence Galkin.

Sweetest Exhibition Catalogue: Bittersweet: The Chocolate Show, Paul Robeson Galleries, Rutgers University

When was the last time you came upon a recipe for Roasted Parsnip White Chocolate Soup in an exhibition catalogue? This is one of the many treats you’ll find in the 64-page paperback booklet that accompanied Bittersweet, an exhibition that was entirely devoted to chocolate in contemporary art. Between a collection of brilliant essays by curator Anonda Bell, author Chloé Doutre-Roussel, food historian Francine Segan, and other chocolate connoisseurs, are historical photographs; chocolate-based recipes; and a diagram that plots the production and distribution of cacao from the Ivory Coast to your mouth. Color images of works in the exhibition, such as Chocolate Cream Pie (pictured above) by the Fluxus artist Robert Watts, show the diverse and delicious ways that artists have approached the world’s most popular confection. (NC)

Fallen Fruit Collective, EATLACMA installation, 2010. Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA.

Best Food-Art Programming: EATLACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The year-long study of food and art featured an array of projects to investigate food as a common denominator within a social context. The program began with an exhibition curated by Fallen Fruit Collective and culminated with the one-day event, “Let Them Eat LACMA.” From an installation of a year’s worth of plates in the shape of a mandala, to the performance of chewing carolers, almost all imaginable intersections of food and art were dissected and explored. (MF)

Pied-a-Terre at 34 Charlotte Street in London.

Best Food-Art Residency: Pied à Terre

London restaurant Pied à Terre has two Michelin stars and the number-three ranking on Zagat’s “UK Top 50 Restaurants” list. Now it has an artist in residence. Macedonia artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva was presented with the position earlier this month, which carries with it a £2,500 tab at the restaurant and £10,000 fee. In exchange, the former Royal College of Art student will produce a work from the restaurant’s art collection. If one believes, as Jasper Johns once said, that “artists are the elite of the servant class” (in which case I shudder to think how writers rank), one can at least be certain that, in some circumstances, they can dine very well these days. (AR)

Jennifer Rubell, "Padded Cell," 2010.

Best Food-Art Installation: Jennifer Rubell, Padded Cell, Performa 11

Installed at the Performa 11 “Red Party” fundraiser, Jennifer Rubell’s Padded Cell is a sugary-sweet installation of around 1,600 cones of cotton candy in a 8 x 16 foot plywood room. The candy was free for the viewer to eat. Of the work, the artist states “Padded Cell acts as an escape…, an all-American funhouse that is at the same time confining, threatening, claustrophobic. It is an object that addresses the dark side of pleasure, the price of pleasure, the possibility that pleasure is its own punishment.” (MF)

Wayne Thiebaud, "Happy 12th Birthday Google," 2010.

Best Food-Art Commission: Happy 12th Birthday Google by Wayne Thiebaud

When Google needed a digital dessert to toast its 12th birthday on September 27, it wisely chose master food-art painter Wayne Thiebaud to handle the task. He presented the $189-billion company with an understated, even humble, cake, decorated with pastel versions of the primary colors. It sports only a single burning candle, a quiet memento mori in the making. Disasters were avoided, though: the flame burned the entire day it graced the site’s homepage. In October, the company reported a 32 percent increase in its quarterly profiting, a performance that suggests that a Thiebaud commission may be a sign of solid corporate governance. (AR)

Erwin Wurm, "Selbstporträt als Gurken," 2010. Paint, acrylic, pedestals.

Best Self-Portrait in Food: Erwin Wurm, Selbstporträt als Gurken, Jack Hanley Gallery New York

In the installation Selbstporträt als Gurken, the Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm wittily casts himself as twenty-six acrylic pickles, each mounted on a pristine white pedestal. In the context of art, these erect and slightly curved phallic forms bring to mind male dominance in the history of art, particularly in sculpture. But this pickle-porn-portrait is open to interpretations far less serious. In a BBC interview, Wurm said that he associates many different things with the pickle (called “gurken” in German) including his childhood in Vienna, where “you grow up with pickles.” When asked why he didn’t depict himself as apple strudel, another staple of Austrian cuisine, the artist replied, “Who wants to look like a strudel?” (NC)

Lady Gaga decked in meat.

Best Food Fashion: Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress by Franc Fernandez

The animal rights group, Peta, was literally seeing red as Lady Gaga arrived for the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. The pop icon wore forty-pounds of raw flank steak as a dress with a matching bag, shoes, and facinator. The artist/designer, Franc Fernandez, let the meat dress age naturally, becoming what is in effect, a wearable snack of beef jerky. (MF)

Juan Capistrán, "Sympathy for the Devil (Eat the Rich), or 13 Point Program to Destroy America," 2010. Foam, acrylic, and cracklings.

Best Use of Pork: Juan Capistrán, Sympathy for the Devil (Eat the Rich), or 13 Point Program to Destroy America, on view in Panamerica at kurimanzutto in Mexico City, curated by Jens Hoffmann

Sure, this year there was not a tremendous amount of competition in this category — perhaps Jennifer’s Rubell’s 2009 “Creation” performance, featuring a mountain of honey-laden ribs, scared people off of the genre? — but Juan Capistrán’s sculpture-slash-pork-pedestal would be a fierce competitor in even the most crowded field. Bravely refusing to ride the public’s current (and apparently unending) love for all things bacon, Capistrán opts for the comparatively underappreciated crackling, piling long sheets of it on a tray resembling a dead pig. Adorned with an obscure title and presented by a grinning cartoon waiter, fried pork skin, as far as I know, has never looked more mysterious, funny, and tantalizing. (AR)

Best Use of Food-Art in a Music Video: Last Leaf by Ok Go

The American band, Ok Go, who garnered music video notoriety through treadmill choreography are yet again celebrated — and toasted — for their innovative stop-motion video. The recently released video features photographs of 2,430 laser-etched pieces of toasted bread, spliced together to animate a forest of guitars among other fanciful scenes. Composed of 15 still shots per second of film, the video was meticulously constructed and directed by the members of Ok Go, Nadeem Mazen, and Ali Mohammad, with the hand-drawn animation developed by Geoff McFetridge. (MF)

The New Museum Cookie by City Bakery/Birdbath.

Best Idea for a Cookie: The New Museum Cookie

When the New Museum announced the release of their official cookie, created by the talented folks of New York’s City Bakery, I was almost certain that this would be a turning point for the museum. After nearly three-years of bland exhibitions on the Bowery, a great cookie was just what they needed to redeem themselves—at least with me. Though, to my disappointment, this chocolate chunk, dried mango, and quinoa concoction turned out to be metaphor for the institution: mediocre at best. Still, the New Museum gets props for coming up with the idea. Every museum should have its own cookie. (NC)

Jacinda Russell, Cake floating on the 3rd-floor rooftop swimming pool, Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky.

Best Cake-Inspired Art: Jacinda Russell, Nine Fake Cakes & Nine Bodies of Water

“Cakes — both real and fake — appeared to make people happy and I wondered, most simply, if they could make me happy too,” artist Jacinda Russell writers in a statement that accompanies Nine Fake Cakes & Nine Bodies of Water. It’s a bewildering title, but also a perfectly self-explanatory one. Russell built cakes out of Styrofoam and a caulking gun, iced them with acrylic, and then floated them on various bodies of water. The resulting photos are brutally elegiac. Like documentation from completed performances or destroyed Earthworks, they record a work entirely beyond our grasp: a cake we could never eat, precariously balancing on the water’s surface. They are, to use Russell’s word, completely “unattainable.” They are also heartrendingly gorgeous. (AR)

Mondrian Cake at at SFMOMA's Blue Bottle Café.

Best Art-Inspired Cakes: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

SFMoMA’s Rooftop Coffee Bar, catered by Blue Bottle Coffee Company, offers an assortment of art-inspired cakes based on works in the museum’s collection and special exhibitions, such as this geometrically-patterned vanilla and red velvet cake trimmed in chocolate ganache made after Piet Mondrian. The masterminds behind these desserts — pastry chef Caitlin Freeman and her assistant, artist Leah Rosenberg — added to their repertoire this year with, among others decadent treats, the Diebenkorn Trifle, layers of genoise cake, citrus mousse, and lemon curd topped with pomegranate gelée, inspired by his painting Ocean Park #122 (1980). And to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary this spring, the duo created a white-frosted three-tiered butter cake with vanilla and Lillet poached strawberries and lemon verbena Swiss meringue. The squared tiers, each positioned atop a stretched linen panel, resembled a Robert Ryman painting when viewed from above. SFMoMA’s collection really is getting sweeter with time. (NC)

Yves Pinard, "Food in the Louvre (Musee Du Louvre)," 2010. Flammarion Publishing Group, France.

Best Art Cookbook: Yves Pinard, Food in the Louvre

This 80-page book by the Grand Louvre’s chef, Yves Pinard, examines the work of forty artists from the Louvre’s extensive collection. From traditional still life paintings to large banquet scenes, the work is contextualized within the greater history of the genre. A smattering of recipes inspired by the artworks is included with the academic text to serve up a lesson of culinary-focused art history for each painting. (MF)

Daniel Spoerri, "Tableau piège," 1972, Stiftung museum kunst palast, Dusseldorf, permanent loan Carlo Schröter, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010.

Lifetime Achievement in Food-Art: Daniel Spoerri

When it comes to food-art Spoerri is what you might call an “OG.” The 80-year-old Swiss artist and former restaurant owner who coined the term “Eat Art”— defined as an edible art that positions itself at the interface between art and life — is best known for his “snare pictures,” assemblages made of meal remains affixed to a tabletop or board and hung directly on the wall. Spoerri’s work inspired the Eat Art exhibition currently on view at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart in Germany; and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his darling piece Kichka’s Breakfast I (1960) is included in the exhibition Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. Spoerri’s work is literally turning up everywhere these days. This summer, French archeologists excavated the remains of the artist’s 1983 picnic-cum-performance for which he invited one hundred artists, gallery owners, and critics to share a meal and then buried the entire table of leftovers, including pigs’ ears, smoked udders, and veal lungs. (NC)


*With so many good food-art exhibitions in 2010, it was difficult, nearly impossible, to choose only one. Here are some others worthy of mention: Eat Drink Art Design, Museum of Arts & Design, NY; Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen, Museum of Modern Art, NY; How Wine Became Modern, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; I Want Candy: The Sweet Stuff in American Art, Woodson Art Museum,WI; Fun Foods, World Erotic Art Museum, FL; Taste: Food and Feasting in Art, Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand; The Cuisine of the Sun, Tim Olsen Gallery, Australia; Conflict Kitchen, Pennsylvania; Eat Me, Postmasters, NY; Jennifer Catron & Paul Outlaw: Imeday, Imeday, Ollarday, Icklenay, Allegra LaViola Gallery; First Supper, Josée Bienvenu Gallery, NY; and Nils Norman: Edible Park, Stroom Den Haag Foundation, Netherlands.

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