The Art of Food

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Published April 29, 2009

As the temperature rises, eating habits grow minimalist. That William Carlos Williams standby says it perfectly:  I have eatenthe plumsthat were inthe icebox and whichyou were probablysavingfor breakfast. Forgive methey were deliciousso sweetand so cold.

Food has not only been on the plate lately, it’s on gallery walls. Wallspace in Chelsea just put up a new Martha Friedman show, “The Organization of Batter.” Friedman, a longtime food fetishist, has made a show entirely of waffle sculptures: waffles made of paper, waffles made of marble, waffles made of rubber, square waffles, round waffles (my preference), waffle irons, waffles with syrup, waffles with butter. It made me want to brunch. I wasn’t alone. At the opening, there was a Wafels & Dinges truck parked conveniently outside. Which got me to thinking: What other food-centric art is out there, awaiting my appetite? The following is a highly selective, vastly arbitrary—but varied! (there is performance, painting, sculpture, film)—tasting menu compiled from friends’ favorites and odd crumbs swept up from my memory. Do feel free to suggest any I may have forgotten, in the comment section. You’d think we’d feature Warhol’s soup cans, but who wants soup in summer? Does he do a gazpacho?

 Caravaggio has his fruit baskets, but Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th-Century produce portraits are an entire harvest in one headshot. Some thought he was deranged, but I support the theory that he was an early supporter of mixed-use agriculture.

Willy Wonka would’ve envied Paul McCarthy’s 2007 show at Maccarone, when he transformed the gallery into a chocolate factory with the wondrous machinery found only in chocolate factories. Just in time for the holidays, the dark chocolate figurines produced were sold for the price of, say, something you might find at Jacques Torres, except these came in the form of unwholesome holiday perversions, like Santa With Butt Plug. Double dip! PETER PAUL CHOCOLATES, 2007. COURTESY OF MACCARONE.

Janine Antoni is a rather svelte artist for someone who gnawed her way through a block of chocolate that had to be hauled into the Sandra Gehring gallery on a palette—and that was just the dessert. Her 1992 performance piece, Gnaw, saw her chew her way through two 600-pound blocks of lard and chocolate. Spit or swallow? She spit. GNAW, 1992. COURTESY LUHRING AUGUSTINE.

Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion animations are at times creepy but completely charming, as if Tim Burton, Magritte, and Wallace & Gromit had an intimate dinner party together. His 1992 film, Food, is impossible to stop watching: a man turns his dining companion into a vending machine dispensing sausages; another eats the clothes off his very back; yet another cuts off and then eats his own hand, using a fork nailed to a prosthetic replacement. It’s not exactly appetizing, but it is a feast. 

Rirkrit Tiravanija makes a delicious (vegetarian) Thai curry, which gallerygoers know from various performances he’s put on the years, when he’s set up his own demo kitchen in 303 Gallery (twice) and at David Zwirner. So good, in fact, that I wish Food—the restaurant Gordon Matta-Clark founded in Soho in 1970, where artists were the guest chefs—were still around. Though I’m not sure I want to taste Dash Snow’s creamed spinach.

For those of you on a beach season diet, Shirana Shahbazi’s still lifes might just kill your hunger. Her too-beautiful photographs of fruits and vegetables combine radiant color (life) with the odd grinning skull or de-feathered fowl ready for slaughter (death). Creepy, and a better appetite-suppressor than a pack of Reds. STILL LIFE, 2007. COURTESY SALON94.

There’s something about lemons. Preserved (ha!) in author Mark Doty’s meditative memoir, Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, I recall a captivating passage in which the authro described how the Baroque Dutch painter Jan Davidsz de Heem rendered lemon peels curling in a glass. Young New York-based painter Greg Parma Smith didn’t go to as much trouble as those Dutch masters did—he only sliced his citrus in quarters—but he does capture the lemon’s tart kitsch appeal. LEMON/LIME, 2008. COURTESY OF THE SWISS INSTITUTE, NEW YORK. 

For the carnivores and hip nose-to-tail disciples, Haim Steinbach hung hams for his 2007 show at Galerie Laurent Goldin in Paris—a lot of them. He wanted to produce not so much a striking visual effect-though he achieved that as well-but an overpowering olfactory one. If you’ve ever been in one of those jamon shops in Spain, you know exactly what he’s talking about. (They say smell is the easiest way to jar a memory loose.) PIGS, 2007. COURTESY GALERIE LAUREN GODIN.

Snacks! Don’t you love them? Why?! Probably because they have such brightly colored packaging!! Berlin-based artist Anne de Vries shows us the hyperchromatic argument against vending machines in schools. 10X SNACKS UNLIMITED. COURTESY THE ARTIST. 

We mustn’t sugarcoat the impact of Terence Koh’s art made out of food that spoils you—like Flowers for Baudelaire, his recent all-white extravaganza presented in Olivier Sarkozy’s New York apartment by Vito Schnabel. Reportedly made of corn syrup and powdered sugar, some of the crowd at the opening wanted to lick them, but abstained because of other lightly-hued media he’s used in the past.

And, then of course, the image to sate all appetities, The Last Supper: