Food Art

by journojames on February 1, 2012

Originally published May 5, 2011

Food isn’t just found in kitchens and dining rooms any more. It’s now showing up in art galleries and show rooms, as food art becomes a popular and legitimate form of artistic expression.

Orange Tiger, Photo courtesy of rew...

Imaginative artists are carving and arranging ordinary fruits and vegetables, like apples and squash, into animal figures and beautiful, wearable dresses. Some are using other common food items like Jell-O, chocolate and butter to craft life-like sculptures of people and scenic depictions of life. The results are visually arresting, and many times, edible and delicious, making this unusual form of art a feast for all the senses.

Art lovers and museum curators have taken notice of food art’s popularity. Last summer, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organized a five-month-long exhibit and program called “EATLACMA” that focused on food and art and their effects on culture and politics. One part of the exhibits showcased food art, including New York artist Jennifer Rubell’s “Donut Wall” installation, a 60-foot edible wall of countless old-fashioned donuts.

“It was really impressive,” said LACMA’s Associate Curator for Special Initiatives Jose Luis Blondet. “It was really fascinating because it was a beautiful object, an aesthetic statement. It really looked like a minimal sculpture. But it was also decadent with all the donuts. And people were not hesitant about eating them.”

Wall of donuts, Photo courtesy of Aida Mollenkamp

In England, the recent establishment of the Experimental Food Society suggests that food art is also an international movement. The group was founded last year and showcases more than 30 acclaimed British artists who work with food, from cake sculptors to one-of-a-kind dining conceptualists.

Alexa Perrin, the founder, said in a recent interview that she thought the food industry had become stagnant and stuck in consumerism. She said the Experimental Food Society was created to challenge the perception of food and allow people to explore it as an art form.

Prudence Staite, a British food artist and member of the group Food Is Art, has gained international recognition for her efforts in doing just that for more than 10 years with her edible art pieces.

Some of her work includes the world’s first room created entirely out of chocolate and famous paintings, like Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe,” recreated with Smarties, the popular English color-coated chocolate candy.

“I wanted art to be something that was interactive and stimulated all the senses,” she said in a recent interview. “The art is about putting the magic back into food. When someone sees a life-size chocolate sofa, they’ll think ‘That’s amazing’ making it fun. Then hopefully next time they have chocolate, instead of just eating it, they’ll take a bit more time to think about what they just ate, instead of just taking it for granted.”

Butter Farm Life, Photo courtesy of Jim Victor

In Texas, sculptor Jim Victor, who usually works with wood and bronze, has also created a name for himself in food art by working with chocolate and butter.

“When you do food art, you don’t take things too seriously,” said Victor. “Last year I took the iconic Statue of David and made him into a surfer, made out of butter. And it was really a neat kind of thing to do. Everybody knows the Statue of David. But people really don’t appreciate iconic art as art anymore. They’re more like just symbols of art. So, when I can take something like that and turn it into something else, it kind of brings life back into it and a new perspective.”

Artists around the world are increasingly working with food as a medium, like Korean artist Sung Yeonju, who made a series of “edible dresses” last year. In England, photographer Carl Warner has been creating stunning landscapes made entirely out of produce for years. And in New Zealand, Maurice Bennett, manipulates pieces of toast with a blowtorch to create portraits and designs.

Critics of food art suggest that the medium is kitschy and too lighthearted to be taken seriously. Others are critical that some works of food art are inedible and therefore an unnecessary waste.

Warner, however, said in a recent interview that he doesn’t consider his “foodscape” work a waste just because the food isn’t being eaten. He said his art brought people joy.

“Just consider how much food gets wasted in restaurants,” he said. “But people still eat out.”

“People, I think, are turned off by the separation that occurs in art,” said Victor. “The notion that art is only done by artists. It smacks of elitism. Food art brings everything closer to the people. Everybody can relate to food and that’s its appeal.”

Tomato dress by Sung-Yeonju, Photo courtesy of spooky

Food artists are convinced that the combination of food and art will continue to grow and points to its strong roots in history and tradition. Historians have described lavish feasts held by Roman emperors below portraits carved in vegetables and with extravagant sugar sculptures decorating their tables.

“Food has always been, in some way, a part of the art equation,” said Blondet. “There is a long tradition between food and art. It’s really not a new trend. It just unfolds in new ways throughout the centuries. We just need to pay more attention to it.”

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