Food (as) Sculpture

My Imperia past maker
My Imperia pasta maker

Happy New Year! Yes, January is already almost over, but I am finally feeling like I have emerged from the endless crush of projects that seem to pile up at the end of the semester/year and the haze that is the holiday season. In reflecting back on the last month, however, I could not help but thinking–unsurprisingly given the time of year–about how much time I have spent recently (happily) in the kitchen: cooking, baking, and cocktail-making. While resisting the urge to just go ahead and start writing a food blog, I cannot help but also muse over how much connectivity exists between the things in my kitchen and the sculptural things I wrestle with at my desk. Sure, there are the more obvious examples like the Imperia Pasta Maker. With its wooden crank handle, metal heft, and glossy, cherry red finish, this beautiful thing churns out delicate strips of dough, transformed further into all varieties of shapes, but more frequently rests, enjoying pride of place on one of our shelves, as a beloved aesthetic object. There is also the panoply of contorted, textured fruits and vegetables–the nubby celery root, the fuzzy kiwi, the sinuous pepper–and the processes that seem to mimic the activities of the sculptor’s studio–kneading dough, frosting (patinating?!) a cake, chiseling a butternut squash, etc.

Raphaelle Peale, Still Life with Peaches, 1821, oil on panel, 12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in. (32.5 x 49 cm), Brooklyn Museum of Art
Raphaelle Peale, Still Life with Peaches, 1821, oil on panel, 12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in. (32.5 x 49 cm), Brooklyn Museum of Art

Of course the connection between food and art is as old as humanity itself and certainly not limited to sculpture. As I was reminded of during a recent visit to the enticing Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine at the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a rich tradition of food as subject matter in painting: from the hunting images on the walls of the Lascaux Caves to Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s wonderfully bizarre portraits composed of food to Raphaelle Peale’s bowls of peaches so incandescently rendered you can almost feel the fuzz of their skins and smell their ripe, sweet scent.

Installation of work by Claes Oldenburg at the Green Gallery, New York, 1962
Installation of work by Claes Oldenburg at the Green Gallery, New York, 1962

There is however, something about the shared three-dimensionality of sculpture and food—their mutual ability to generate powerful multi-sensory, spatial experiences—that generates an especially potent, if unsettling, charge. Continue reading “Food (as) Sculpture”

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