Art of Food Leaves Viewers Hungry

March 25th, 2014  |  Published in *, March 2014, On View

by Shawn Daniell

The Carnegie’s eighth installment of The Art of Food has become an extravagant opening night affair. But in the days that follow, the viewing experience becomes anticlimactic and sadly underwhelming. I’ve perused photos of the opening night online. I’ve seen the Alice and Wonderland costumed characters. I’ve seen the exquisite food creations of various local restaurants and eateries such as: Taste of Belgium, Virgil’s Café, Otto’s, La Poste Eatery, Chocolates Latour, Fireside Pizza, and many more. All of these elements combined together to create what I’m sure was a delicious food stage-show. The tickets for this one night affair was a mere $25 for members and $40 for non-members. But after the last of the culinary delights were consumed, the last bit of wine poured, and the costumed beauties were back in street clothes, the average gallery viewer is left with a rather lackluster exhibit barring a few exceptions.

I must admit I came on the scene late, not being assigned to this show until after the opening. That being said, as a “struggling” writer and artist, a “mere” $40 would have been hard to afford or justify for a one night only event. Ultimately I think coming during regular gallery hours paid off. It allowed me the time and quietness that I need when reviewing shows. It also stripped away the flash and glitter of opening night and revealed a far more depressing aftertaste. My biggest complaint was that there just wasn’t enough artwork on exhibit. I had the pleasure of reviewing the 2012 Art of Food exhibit and was blown away by the variety and sheer talent on display. This time around the galleries felt empty and sad. I remarked to Chuck, my fiancé and photographer sidekick, “Where’s all the food?” Of course I don’t actually mean the edible kind, but food for thought.

Some of the artwork did speak to me. I was intrigued by Eric Brass’ Steak, a sculptural piece constructed of wood and nylon wire, including approximately 100 knives. On a basic level Steak is about an eating utensil, the steak knife. But as I stood looking upward at the knives, hanging from the ceiling and jutting outward, almost as if part of a flock of dangerous flying metal and wood, I thought about food as a dangerous object or weapon. When spelled differently, stake, brings to mind a tool for slaying vampires; maybe I’ve been watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I couldn’t help thinking about the source of a delicious juicy steak. I imagined a poor defenseless cow chewing its cud in a serene pasture being lead to the slaughterhouse. I like the idea of food being dark and dangerous. As the comedian Denis Leary said in No Cure for Cancer, “Meat tastes like murder and murder tastes pretty goddamn good.” Food like anything else can be deadly. Too many sweets can lead to diabetes. Too much food can lead to obesity. We live in a culture known for its excesses and even something as innocent as a sinfully delicious pastry can be seen as dangerous as a set of flying steak knives.

Eric Brass, Steak

Tony Dotson, Abandonment Issues

Tony Dotson’s paintings, acrylic on panel, also seem to embrace the dark side of food. For instance in Abandonment Issues, a solitary little blue bird perches on a tree limb. He looks down, murmuring “Mommy”, as he sees a bucket of fried drumsticks sitting on the ground below. Dotson, an Outsider artist, renders his imagery simply but does so with an ironic and humorous twist. We can see Dotson’s dark humor throughout his pieces on display including French Pork, a portrait of a cute pig labeled COCHON and in Buffet Opened Early, where several crows surround the dead and bloodied body of a bunny rabbit. Zachary Herrmann created large sculptural pieces, titled Portrait 1, Small Portrait, and Portrait 3, of polystyrene, polyurethane foam, and acrylic resembling large cuts of meat or bright cake-like shapes. I was drawn to the fun, bright colors, textures, and scale (a couple of them were almost as tall as I am) of these pieces. Sharon Butler, inspired by silhouette portraits done of her and her siblings when they were children, created six silhouettes of imaginary cakes. In the BonBonerie Shadow Theater Butler also created an interactive narrative where gallery viewers can construct their own BonBonerie story using paper puppets. Both of these displays are a play on imagination and creation.

Zachary Herrmann, Portrait 1, Small Portrait, and Portrait 3

Sharon Butler, BonBonerie Shadow Theatre

 

In its eight year running, the Art of Food, which ended March 16, seems to be running out of steam and creative variety. Instead of focusing on producing a compelling exhibit the focus seems to be on making the opening night more elaborate and decadent. It’s become an event where gallery viewers, who can afford the entrance fee, can eat their fill of delectable appetizers, mingle, and drink the night away. While I can appreciate an artful night out I still think the goal of any show needs to focus on delivering delicious artwork. This year I went hungry.

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