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Thing of the Day - Food or Art?

There are presently more than 850 million people who do not have enough food to eat and 2.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Over the past 50 years, food aid has been one of the principal resources deployed in the effort to end hunger, and a number of donor countries, the United States prominent among them, have channeled billions of dollars’ worth of food to developing countries.
From the food aid website Bread for the World


The Wedding Feast, Sandro Botticelli, about 1567
Yesterday I was watching Food Network’s Food Challenge on TV while I ran on the treadmill. In this episode, titled “Rock & Roll,” according to info on Food Network’s website, “five pastry chefs compete for $10,000 in their mission to create the ultimate sugar showpiece that not only demonstrates a musical theme but is also capable of movement (rocking and rolling). 

The competition lasts seven hours and the contestants will face three judges.” I finished running before the show ended so I didn’t see the winner, but I couldn’t help thinking of the kind of food sculptures that have been made by chefs for centuries either for holidays - like the Mexican Day of the Dead sugar sculptures that originated in the fifteenth century, or for rituals such as wedding feasts. This quote from the Metropolitan Museum’s website information about weddings in the Italian Renaissance is especially amusing:

“The humanist Filippo Beroaldo reported that the 1487 wedding of Lucrezia d’Este and Giovanni Bentivoglio in Bologna featured giant sugar sculptures of castles, ships, people, and animals, and a flaming wheel of fireworks that accidentally ignited some of the wedding guests.”

While the Food Network chefs weren’t setting anyone on fire, I couldn’t help noticing
that the sculptures they were making, though of electric guitars and not castles or ships, were still elaborate representations in edible form of things from real life, however imaginatively arranged. It doesn’t seem that the art of making edible art has come very far in a few centuries and I wonder what is the hold on our imaginations of a craft that imitates life in food. Perhaps it is just a human attraction to magic and tricks and things that fool the eye in everything from trompe-lieol painting to t-shirts that are painted to look like they have three dimensional objects on top of them.

As an artist, I have a real problem with art that is made of food not intended for eating when so many on this earth are starving, but if the product is truly edible, then I can accept it as a reasonable thing to do. The most points in the Food Challenge competition is given for artistry, even over other attributes like difficulty. Our culture obviously values imagination, but much of the commercial food sculpture of today is only imaginative in its arrangement of objects while the objects themselves are photographically reproduced, rehashing basically the same strategy over and over. A counterpoint to this are fine artists who use food as a vehicle for communicating ideas about life and art. Janine Antoni comes to mind with her 1993 performative chocolate and soap sculpture “Lick and Lather” that deals with the love/hate relationship we have with our own image. And what does a shiny sugar electric guitar that garners ten thou in prize money say about us? I’m not sure I know for certain. But it’s interesting to ponder.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, chocolate and soap, 1993

see also: Thing of the Day — Tino Sehgal

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