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Artists describe how we eat today at the Burchfield Penney Art Center
by Jack Foran
Just in time for the national obesity epidemic, an exhibit at the Burchfield Penney Art Center looks at the complex relationship between what we eat and what we are. About a dozen artists consider the spectrum of ways we use food, from basic sustenance item to aesthetic object, to objects of desire, addiction, even worship.
Worship? That sound a little extreme? The centerpiece work in the exhibit, by Cheryl Jackson, is a plastic-food-strewn domestic living room set up with metal folding chairs and TV trays oriented toward a TV set running a continuous loop of ads for foods of a metaphorical rather than actual plastic quality. The TV replacing the hearth that would have been the room focal point in the pre-TV age, the hearth being originally, in ancient cultures, the locus and mechanism of burnt offering religious sacrifices to the gods (that the ancient Greeks, at least, about whom we have some serious knowledge of religious practices, had the good sense to cook just enough that the gods—who didn’t eat ordinary mortal food, anyway—could savor and enjoy the smoke, whereupon the mortals could consume the sacrificial item, the meat, done to a turn).
The only real food items in the exhibit—not very appetizing—are the desiccated herrings in Kathie Simonds’s herrings on flatbread sculptural creation. The supposed flatbread—which looks a lot more edibly tempting than the herrings—is actually handmade paper.
The nearest thing to appetizing might be the mushroom pizza a woman is gorging herself on in one of a trio of photos by Biff Henrich—the other photos show another woman maniacally devouring candy dots on a long paper strip, and a boy blowing a huge bubble gum bubble. In another religious reference, explanatory copy likens the three much taller more than broad photos to medieval church stained glass windows. There’s something to that, in the dark tones and glowing colors, but the overall idea of the photos seems to be more about eating disorder.
Equally unappetizing is A. J. Fries’s tour de force self-portrait on a huge grid of 400-some cocktail napkins soak-stained (providing tonal contrasts) with Guinness, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, and Shiraz. A marriage of Chuck Close and color fieldist Jules Olitski. Fries also has a large oil painting of a pair of Hostess Twinkies, doubly preserved from natural processes of physical deterioration by their own maximum artificiality in terms of foodstuff and shiny cellophane wrapping.
Margarite Antell has a large sculptural eramic eggplant—said to be an eggplant, but looking a little like an enormous purple pear. And from Hollis Frampton, two of his lovely electrostatic print versions of exotic foods package labels, here bamboo shoots and lotus flowers. And from Marion Faller, a night view photograph of the Beef and Sirloin fast food oasis on Genesee Street just beyond the airport—the one with the life-size statue of the White-faced Hereford on the roof.
The show is called Edible Complex and continues through September 2. On Friday, April 13, as part of M&T Bank’s Second Fridays series, the Burchfield Penney will host an exhibition of Western New York’s local, sustainable food culture, featuring the produce of local farms and vineyards. The event runs 5:30-7:30pm.blog comments powered by Disqus
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