Service of Food as Art

June 1st, 2020

Categories: Art, Food, Timing

Food is missing from too many American tables and in the short-term, between record unemployment and Covid-19’s impact on prices, the appalling situation promises to get worse.

Simultaneously two gallerists attempting to keep an oar in the water while galleries are closed worldwide during the pandemic selected to promote a 1990 installation by Cuban-born visual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres involving a cookie.

Hunger in America

According to Thomas Franck of cnbc.com writing in mid-May “The Labor Department reported Tuesday that prices U.S. consumers paid for groceries jumped 2.6% in April, the largest one-month pop since February 1974. The spike in supermarket prices was broad based and impacted items from broccoli and ham to oatmeal and tuna.

Photo: cannedfoodhx.com

“The price of the meats, poultry, fish and eggs category rose 4.3%, fruits and vegetables climbed 1.5%, cereals and bakery products advanced 2.9%, and dairy goods gained 1.5%.”

Lauren Bauer writing in the brookings.edu blog reported a 460 percent increase in mothers who said the children in their households 12 years and under “were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.”

Interactive Cookie Installation

It is against this background that Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner),” is being installed at 1,000 sites around the globe. It is promoted/resurrected by Andrea Rosen, show curator and director of The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation who is partnering with German art dealer David Zwirner. Sarrah Cascone wrote about the exhibitions on artnet.com.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner)” Photo: artnet.com

The original installation had 10 thousand fortune cookies piled up in the corner of a room. Today there will be from 240 to 2,000 cookies featured in the homes, museums or public places that Rosen selected via her choice of participants. Viewers are encouraged to help themselves to a cookie.

Cascone wrote: “The owner needs to follow specific but open-ended parameters in manifesting the work, which can be installed in more than one place at a time—making it perfect for our current moment, when much of the world is under indefinite lockdown.”

The curators, artist’s friends and colleagues invited to participate supply their own cookies. Rosen said “halfway through, everyone has to regenerate it to the original size. So everyone has the opportunity to experience both the potential loss within the piece, and also the notions of rebuilding and regeneration that is a very important part of the work.”

Rosen, told Cascone: “This is one of the only works in the world that can travel and be accessible right now. There’s so many people right now trying to do incredible online projects. Felix can actually afford people a physical experience with an artwork—and not just looking at it, but thinking about it, and their involvement and what it means to them.”

My post isn’t about the validity of the installation: It passed the test within the art community. However the timing strikes a false note for me for involving food in a frivolous way at a time when it is missing from so many tables. What do you think?

Even if the piles were made up of basic comestibles accessible to people needing help, the fact that they would have to reach down on the floor for the food and take only one or two packages lacks respect for the situation’s severity. Your thoughts?

Photo: cannedfoodhx.com

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7 Responses to “Service of Food as Art”

  1. JG Said:

    I agree with you.

  2. Nancy Farrell Said:

    When I was little one of my favorite art projects was making igloos out of sugar cubes. Years later, in the late 80s/early 90s I was told that schools were not encouraging wasting food for this very reason–that it was disrespectful to those who didn’t have enough to eat and it sent the wrong message to those that did. Interesting that this piece of art was created in 1990–around the time we were just starting this discussion in my little world. I agree it lacks respect given today’s conditions but also I think it is a concept that is outdated.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    I am ashamed to admit that other things hit me when reading about the installation before the obvious association with worldwide hunger.

    The first was related to the unwrapped cookies that appeared in some photos. Even before the pandemic I would not want to eat a cookie that had been touched by the installer and others reaching for one which meant waste. Then I thought how the installation would attract mice and bugs. And at last I thought of the food drives I participate in now and how the installation mocked those efforts and that the money to pay for cookies, though not that much, would nevertheless be better used by food banks.

    The sophisticated gallerists were focused on how to work during a pandemic when galleries are closed. Desperate to do so–which is understandable–they had on blinders.

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Empty headed bubble brains whose indulgences would shame Ancient Roman aristocracy, will always be with us. They are not worthy of discussion, especially now, when there are so many more worrisome issues on society’s table.

    Instead, how about focusing attention on the folks who really matter? Those whose constant efforts are aimed towards alleviating troubled, and often hungry, families. Here are a few organizations whose goal is to make things better, and often do. In Manhattan: City Meals on Wheels (nonsectarian-food for the elderly & disabled); Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center (non sectarian, offering multiple programs for those in need): Bowery Mission (Christian, aimed at offering food, shelter & guidance to all, many of whom are down on their luck and/or alcoholic.) On a more worldly scale, Mazon (Jewish, whose aim is to “erase hunger.”) Carter Center and Doctors without Borders, international in scope. If some hard earned pennies are thrown their way, the world will be a better place for all. Forget the buffoons who scarf fanciful morsels while ignoring avoidable tragedies at their doorstep. It’s a stretch, but some may wake up, see themselves for what they are, and do something about it.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Painfully true.

    You make a crucial point that I’d not thought of. The gallerists should be reaching out to their fortunate, well-healed customers and in the name of the beloved deceased artist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who featured both fortune cookies and candies as his “paintbrush,” ask for funds to support causes that feed the hungry. Promise this international exhibition to celebrate a time in which the world has a handle on hunger.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    This is a wonderfully timely and significant post. Calling attention to the outrageous price increase for foods which can only be attributed to corporate greed making use of the pandemic to augment fears of lack of basic necessities as well as stimulating individual hoarding is a significant warning about the rampant social dangers caused by the pandemic.

    Far more horrific is the recognition of the numbers of of individuals and families who are suffering privation and lack of food. It is not important to discuss and linger over the capricious merits or lack thereof of Gonazlez Torres’s work. The absolute unequivocal lack of judgment., sense and sensibility in the choice of this (perhaps questionably aesthetic or profound) work at any time and above all this time of natural global disaster, mass population displacement, poverty and, overriding everything else, the pandemic makes it a ridiculously pretentious waste of time, energy and money that could be put to an infinitely better use. The meaningless justifications put forth by the curator/sponsorship team are obnoxiously patronizing and the enormous wealth of the gallerist simply renders it more tasteless and even offensive!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    Corporate greed may be part of the reason for price hikes but not all. In my neighborhood a grocery chain charged $5.99 for a pint of blueberries where a small grocery charged $3.49 for the same size. You’d think it would be the opposite.

    But there are distribution glitches and Covid-19 has hit some meat and vegetable plants so they have had to close. The ensuing shortages cause price hikes too.

    I am relieved that your reaction to the timing of the exhibition matches mine. The gallerists were intent on finding a way to work and remain in the limelight. They achieved their goals while perhaps doing their artist and themselves a disservice. They might have used their prominence to help others.

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