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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Sculpture Matters: recent encounters with figuration, clay, and maverick makers

Thomas Houseago, Baby, 2009-2010, Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, wood, graphite, charcoal, 104 x 92 x 64 in / 264.2 x 233.7 x 162.6 cm, Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Thomas Houseago, Baby, 2009-2010, Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, wood, graphite, charcoal, 104 x 92 x 64 in., Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Henry Moore working on Atom Piece (Working model for Nuclear Energy) in his maquette studio in Perry Green, mid-1960s

Over the last few weeks I have encountered a rather odd collection of sculptural things: the postwar ceramic sculpture of Lucio Fontana and Fausto Melotti bursting with dynamically glazed and roughly handled surfaces, currently on view at the Nasher Sculpture CenterThe Age of Innocence, a victorian bust in three different materials by the English sculptor Alfred Drury at the Henry Moore Institute; a visit to Henry Moore’s house, studios, and now foundation at Perry Green, and most recently what I can only describe as a wonderfully insane lecture by the contemporary sculptor Thomas Houseago, which involved an increasingly drunk, cursing artist saying some surprisingly sincere, profound things about sculpture. Now this is admittedly a random selection of artists and artworks, from various historical eras, with very different intents and purposes. There is, however, a more tangible connection between these sculptors than the happenstance of my travel schedule or current research.

Installation view, showing (left to right): Alfred Drury  'The Age of Innocence' c.1897-1900, Plaster; 1901, Marble;  1906, Bronze. Courtesy Bradford Museums, Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery), Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.
Installation view from the Henry Moore Institute, showing (left to right): Alfred Drury, The Age of Innocence, c.1897-1900, Plaster; 1901, Marble; 1906, Bronze. Courtesy Bradford Museums, Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery), Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

There was first and foremost a confrontation with figuration and a reminder of its continuing currency within sculptural practice–an aspect that has always heightened the obdurate if uncanny presence of the sculptural object. I was also struck by the commonalities in the processes of making amongst this group of sculptors, with all utilizing and celebrating the traditional means of creating a sculpture by taking a piece of matter and shaping it with their hands. The transformation of material has always been the distinguishing feature of sculptural practice, so perhaps my noticing this rather conventional practice as such is just because I have spent too many years with minimalist and post-minimalist artists of the 1960s who worked hard to efface the trace of their touch within their work. For an artist like Drury, preliminary modeling and the reproduction of a single work in materials like plaster, marble, and bronze was standard practice, but the acknowledgment of sculpture’s traditional processes does not make sure objects any less interesting when seen together. In fact such material comparison is an illumination, not just to an understanding of sculpture but also to the inherent powers of different substances to convey different tones, effects, and details within the “same” object. Continue reading “Sculpture Matters: recent encounters with figuration, clay, and maverick makers”

Sculpture and Designed Things Part II: Artschwager and Formica

Formica Advertisement, 1955, published in Ideal Home. http://www.flickr.com/groups/midcenturyinprint/
Formica Advertisement, 1955. Courtesy of Flickr Midcentury Print group.

“This housewife is a ‘FORMICA’ kitchen enthusiast – but aren’t we all? Won’t you feel life is good when you own a kitchen where all the surfaces are jewel-bright-clean-at-a-wipe ‘FORMICA’ Laminated Plastic?”
– 
Formica Advertisement, 1953, published in Ideal Home 

Jean Baudrillard wrote that modern materials like concrete or nylon are no less true, authentic, or real than stone or cotton, and that with the passage of time the “nobility of materials” would dissipate, modifying “our sensorial relationships with materials.”1  Plastic, whether Melamine, Nylon, or Formica, may have become ubiquitous substances of our material lives, but I would argue that, at least in the case of Formica, it has yet to overcome its second-class status as a cheap, fake, or in our current age, highly unsustainable. Continue reading “Sculpture and Designed Things Part II: Artschwager and Formica”

Sculpture and Designed Things Part I: Andre, Artschwager, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Installation of Gallery 297b at the Art Institute of Chicago with works by Richard Artschwager, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, and Frank Stella in view. Photo by the author, August 2013
Installation of Gallery 297b at the Art Institute of Chicago with works by Richard Artschwager, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, and Frank Stella in view. Photo by the author, August 2013

I think I may be having a bit of a Richard Artschwager revelation. For all of my interest in sculpture, especially postwar sculpture, I have to admit that I have never given his work a lot of attention. The timing of this personal Artschwager-awakening, while caused by an seemingly odd confluence of encounters, is not totally unexpected considering that many seem to be having their own Artschwager-moments. Just days before his passing in February of this year, a large-scale retrospective, the first in decades, closed at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This exhibition, Richard Artschwager! opened at UCLA’s Hammer museum this summer, and largely in response to this more recent manifestation of the exhibition, Artschwager has been appearing, specter-like, in my digital life over the past few weeks. There have been countless tweets, news features, and blog posts including: compendiums of Artschwager-isms, fantastic photographs of his blps installed around Los Angeles and a fun video piece produced by the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (see below). Continue reading “Sculpture and Designed Things Part I: Andre, Artschwager, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink”

Sottsass, Olivetti, and the continuing lure of the Typewriter

Ettore Sottsass (Manufactured by Olivetti), Olivetti Studio 45 Typewriter, c. early 1970s, ABS plastic and other materials, Art Institute of Chicago
Ettore Sottsass (Manufactured by Olivetti), Olivetti Studio 45 Typewriter, c. early 1970s, ABS plastic and other materials, Art Institute of Chicago

The other day, while mapping out an upcoming museum visit for the class I am teaching this summer, I found myself wandering through the design and architecture galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have been thinking a lot lately about the often tenuous line that separates a designed object and a sculptural thing. The current exhibition, Sharing Space: Creative Intersections in Architecture and Design, culled from the AIC’s permanent collection, seemed like a particularly apt opportunity to further consider this liminal space, since the exhibition takes as its focus the point where two disciplines, in this case architecture and design, meet. Among the numerous schematic drawings of three-dimensional things, sculptural models, and hybrid objects was an bright teal Olivetti Studio 45 typewriter designed by Italian postwar artistic polymath Ettore Sottsass. Admittedly the color is what initially grabbed my attention, but the more I stood and looked at this object the more I was struck by its overall aesthetics: the considered selection of the font on the keys perfectly complementing the simple, clean lines of its frame; the single red key balanced by the red stripe on the ribbon; the small details, like the teal ends of the knobs, aspects that go beyond mere functionality. Sitting in its well-lit vitrine, its elements casting dramatic shadows, this object, this thing made to type words on paper, possessed some serious presence. Continue reading “Sottsass, Olivetti, and the continuing lure of the Typewriter”