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Analysis out of the box

From art to food, from food to art

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | Iconography around food is a fertile theme in history, evidencing the primordial character of eating in societal evolution. Today, the borders between visual and culinary art have shrunk, without disappearing completely : visual arts explore the question of food consumption and the ritual of the meal while high gastronomy tends to elevate its creations to the realm of fine art and its chefs to the status of veritable artists.

Déjeuner au Studio Olafur Eliasson © Maria del Pilar García Ayensa © Studio Olafur Eliasson
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Déjeuner au Studio Olafur Eliasson
© Maria del Pilar García Ayensa © Studio Olafur Eliasson

Food, a sign of the times

Since antiquity, representations of food have consistently captured daily life through the symbolism of the meal, the mystical still life and naturalist descriptions… On the border between the sacred and the profane, the ritual of the meal has marked the imagination and characterized societies, from animists to the modern day : only a few hundred years separate Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (1494) and Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1863). In the West, the various approaches to the still life reflect so many historical and philosophical differences : life permeates the anthropomorphic portraits of Arcimboldo, the naturalist rupture of Rembrant’s Cow Carcass, and Cezanne’s delicate studies of apples… Post WW2 consumption-based societies saw the rise of Pop Art and a new way of representing food : Oldenburg transfigured manufactured foods by inversing the scale while Warhol fossilized them into icons. Today, food increasingly integrates performance-based practices and events. The artist collective United Brothers, for example, employed food in the action they conceived for Frieze 2014, offering a miso soup made with vegetables harvested on the radioactive Fukushima site.

Food, its materiality is the work

In the 18th century, the French chef Antonin Carême already treated pastry cooking as a major branch of architecture; while in the Salon d’Automne in 1923, cuisine was elevated to the level of the 9th art. Twentieth century avant-gardes broke with traditional representations and appropriated food as a medium : artists sublimated the materiality of food and its ritualistic and symbolic connotations : Joseph Beuys used fat as a vital symbol representing the body’s warmth and preservation; Spœrri reactivated the meal/ritual fossilizing a feast among friends, where the elements become the painting’s composition; Jean-Pierre Bertrand infused his mediums with organic materials like salt, honey and lemon, ritualizing a living alchemy; Michel Blazy produced an allegory for the life cycle, exploring the esthetics of rot, incorporating the variable of change into his works; David Altmejd studied the logic of fluids through the use of melons and coconuts.

Food exhibitions are omnipresent

The first effects of globalization in the 2000’s brought about a symptomatic profusion of artistic events devoted to food; we can cite Fooding at the Palais de Tokyo in 2002, followed by Laurent Grasso and Gilles Stassart’s ephemeral culinary project Nomiya between 2009 and 2011; Le Festin de l’art at Dinard’s Palais des arts explored the theme of food with a critical approach to modern modes of consumption while Manger des yeux showcased the processes of contemporary consumption; Textifood focused on edibles and their residue. We can add to this list the exhibition Food at MuCEM in 2015 and Arts & Foods : Rituals since 1851 curated by Germano Celant for the Milan Triennale…this long list is destined to continue, pointing to a major preoccupation in the West in the wake of industrialization and globalization with the specter of planetary food shortages. Meeting the food needs of a population estimated at 9.7 billion in 2050 (INED study) has become a major 21st century challenge.

Food gets arty

The porosity of contemporary art’s borders – underlined by the exhibition Le bord des mondes at the Palais de Tokyo in 2015 – has deepened the debate on the place of high gastronomy in the fine arts, laying out transversal paths interrogating present-day culture. The relationship between artistic and culinary creation is increasingly intimate with collaboration around the vectors of theoretical reflection as well as the experiential :
- In 2007, Kassel documenta invited chef Ferran Adria, presenting his molecular cuisine as artwork; legitimizing the role of the chef-cook alongside the artist. The exhibition Cookbook, conceived by Nicolas Bourriaud, presented art and culinary processes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris, engaging a dialogue between twenty or so prominent chefs, including René Redzepi, Antoni Aduriz, Michel Bras... and ten contemporary artists.
- at the same time, “arty” events and presentations follow one after the other. We could cite the Shangri-La Hotel pastry chef François Perret’s reinterpretations of forms and colors drawn from Velazquez, substituting food for paint, or the collaboration between the graffiti artist Tank and chef Akrame Benallal…

Culinary alchemy at the heart of creation

Olafur Eliasson has made cooking an integral component of his creative process. His book Studio Olafur Eliasson : En cuisine published by Phaidon in 2016 serves as a manifesto. The kitchen is cast as a laboratory of ideas. Located in the center of this studio, it is the hub for social interaction, where the 90-some workers and occasional guests gather. Artisans, historians, architects, designers… and Lauren Maurer, the head chef in charge of feeding the bodies and minds of this group of creative individuals. Studio Olafur Eliasson : En cuisine puts forward an alternative vision of gastronomy that gœs beyond experience and sensation toward nourishing the intellect through a reflection on the stomach. All of this is set in opposition to a culture of prepared foods, with the ritual of the meal approached from a context of tradition, participation and collaboration, including more contemporary considerations such as organic foods and eco-responsibility.

Vincent Kozsilovics
Publié le 16/12/2015
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Version française

Déjeuner au Studio Olafur Eliasson © Maria del Pilar García Ayensa © Studio Olafur Eliasson Claes Oldenburg, Floor Burger, 1962 © DR Roy Lichtenstein, Sandwich and Soda, 1964 © DR Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962 © Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY / TM Licensed by Campbell’s Soup Co. All rights reserved Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986 © Andy Warhol Foundation United Brothers, Does this soup taste ambivalent, 2014 © Photo courtesy of Green Tea Gallery Joseph Beuys, Fat Chair, 1964-1985 © DACS 2015 Daniel Spoerri, Restaurant de la City Galerie, Zurich 1965 © DR Vue partielle de l’exposition ’From red to red’, Le BOX, fonds M-ARCO, Marseille, 2015 © Photo Denis Prisset Michel Blazy / Exposition Post Patman au Palais de Tokyo / Courtesy Palais de Tokyo © Marc Domage David Altmejd, Figure with Cantaloupe Shoulders, 2013 © David Altmejd Courtesy Galerie Xavier Hufkens Laurent Grasso, Nomiya, 2009-2011 © Courtesy Galerie Perrotin Le cuisinier catalan Ferran Adria devant l’affiche de la Documenta d’art de Kassel (Allemagne) © AFP LLUIS GENE Une toile de Velazquez transformée en dessert au Shangri-La Hôtel à Paris © DR Arman, Accumulation de casseroles, 1999 © ADAGP, Paris 2014/photo Caroline Faiola. Collection Faiola, Paris Gilles Barbier, Le Festin, 2013 © Collection privée/Galerie Vallois, Paris Michel Blazy, Lasagne al forno, 2012 © ADAGP, Paris 2014/Photo Fabrice Gousset/Courtesy l’artiste et Art:Concept, Paris Serge Clément et Marina Kamena, Lichtenstein, 2013 © 2014 S.Clément & M. Kamena/Courtesy Marianne et Pierre Nahon. Galerie Beaubourg, Paris Erró, Foodscape, 1964 © ADAGP, Paris 2014/Palazzo Grassi/photo ORCH orsenigo_chemollo/Pinault Collection Subodh Gupta, Spooning, 2009 © S.Gupta/Photo Mike Bruce/Pinault Collection/Courtesy l’artiste et Hauser & Wirth Martin Bruneau, Repas, fond blanc, 2010 © 2014 M. Bruneau/Courtesy Galerie Isabelle Gounod, Paris Andres Serrano, Black Supper, 1991 © A. Serrano/(Vue d’exposition, Passage du temps, Lille, 16 octobre 2007 au 1 janvier 2008, photo M. Dufour) / Pinault Collection Léonard de Vinci, La Cène, 1494-1498 © DR Édouard Manet - Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863 © DR Giuseppe Arcimboldo, L’Été, 1573 © DR Rembrandt, Le boeuf écorché, 1655 © DR Paul Cézanne, Nature morte aux pommes et aux oranges (1895-1900) © DR

Déjeuner au Studio Olafur Eliasson
© Maria del Pilar García Ayensa © Studio Olafur Eliasson

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