Culinary inspiration takes “The Food Show” in many creative directions, but the subtler the recipe the better the art
By Richard Foss
Ancient Roman kitchens were decorated with mosaics and frescoes of food, but the first famous paintings of the subject were still lifes by Dutch masters in the 1600s. Though some show fresh food in all its perfection, not all were appetizing. Van der Ast included a worm on a pear and ants crawling on grapes, and other artists painted houseflies on fruit that was overripe or even rotting. Whether these were symbols of the transience of beauty and youth or just a display of their skills at painting insects is left to the viewer, but it does show how images of food can be seductive or repellent.
The images and objects in “The Food Show,” an art exhibition at bG Gallery in Bergamot Station, include pieces that evoke both of those feelings, as well as make various points about society and politics. Curator Daniel Rolnik collected pieces by 50 artists, and he brings a whimsical attitude and an affection for outsider art to the task.
As might be expected, there are polemics against fast food at varying levels of subtlety. For instance, artist Paul Koudounaris sneaked taxidermied pigs into a Carl’s Jr. and posed them next to a stoic-looking toad trapped inside a hamburger. Whatever you think of the statement, it’s an arresting and humorous image. Others are more predictable; as soon as you know this show exists, you know that someone will make a gross joke about McDonald’s.
More subtle and interesting is Joseph Remnant’s lovely colored sketch of a deserted and dark Pink’s hot dog stand, as the cheerful colors of the sign-festooned building look desolate in the gloom. It’s like an abandoned carnival, a place of childlike joy turned menacing in the gloomy light. Daniel Edwards evokes something similarly unsettling with his peculiar images of vintage ice cream parlor ads in shades of monochrome blue, as the smiling children next to giant ice cream cones or sundaes look deranged or inhuman.
I had expected to see statements about high-end dining and commentary about the cult of celebrity chefs, but found only one. John Kilduff’s “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” shows a brawl among celebrity chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Alton Brown, Guy Fieri and Julia Child, who are armed with knives, cleavers and the occasional shotgun or pistol. Julia has only a rolling pin as a weapon, so one hopes she is adept with it.
There are a few images related to farming and gardening, and the standout is Laura Atchinson’s “Nature’s Bounty.” Painted green hills are a background for a mosaic made of actual seeds that were dyed and cast in resin, an image of farming reinforced by the artistic medium. Jeweler Carolyn Tillie finds the beauty in food in a most unnatural medium, mounting dollhouse miniatures of desserts in sterling silver to create exquisitely detailed brooches and pins. Some of her other pieces use food-related toys from Japanese vending machines, and you find yourself squinting to see every detail of tiny eggplants, shrimp and geometric sushi.
A few images even use something approximating classic still life techniques, albeit in updated forms. Bill Miller created a classic fruit bowl scene using scraps of vintage linoleum, and David Friedman evokes stained glass with hard lines and panes of color in an image of hot dogs, ketchup and a Sriracha bottle. Ancient Romans or Flemish merchants might not have understood the aesthetic, but likely would have appreciated either composition.
Some stridently political and polemic works are here, and those who enjoy obvious statements may comment on them — I don’t, so I won’t. Others address things more obliquely or subtly. A lovely painting of a lush garden plot in the city acquires additional meaning when you know it is by Marius Mason, an environmental activist who is currently in jail for vandalizing GMO research labs. Mason is probably spending a lot of time looking at gray walls right now, and the memory of gardens must be precious. Genetic modification is addressed more lightly by Hillary Pfeifer’s “Monty Santo the multiple personality GMO carrot,” a carved and painted vegetable with six maniacally grinning faces.
Much of the rest of the show is a cheerful miscellany: cartoons of dinosaurs at a hot dog roast, a delightful set of Picasso-esque paintings on flattened drink cans and a delicate embroidery of a peeled banana are among them. A standout is Zachary Aronson’s close-up of a face with a cherry superimposed on it; it was made freehand using a blowtorch and a slab of wood, and shows remarkable delicacy of shading given the unpredictable medium.
Surprisingly, there are hardly any pieces in which art is made using actual food. There are a few animals and faces sculpted from bread dough and there is a sculpture of the Crucifixion in which the bodies are made from chocolate, but nothing using or referencing cake decorating or pastry techniques. Marzipan and sugar sculptures have been around for centuries, and it would be interesting to see what contemporary artists might do with them.
There are also no representations involving non-European cuisines or artistic styles. While a show with such a contemporary aesthetic might not be expected to be comprehensive, both agriculture and the enjoyment of food are global and any future iterations of this show could reflect that. As it is, there are things to engage, challenge, delight and annoy almost anybody, and perhaps even stimulate your appetite for a meal after the show.
“The Food Show” is on view from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 6 at bG Gallery, Bergamot Station #G8A, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 906-4211 or visit santamonica.bgartdealings.com.