Recently, some friends and I watched a cable TV food show. A slyly flirtatious chef seduced as she kneaded and rolled the dough. Our group was beguiled and amused, one friend called it “PG Porn”.. One friend called TV food shows “PG Porn”. Granted his interpretation and our amusement might be due to the fact that we were viewing this show without sound, in a bar, and at 2:00 a.m.; but nonetheless, it got me thinking about the seduction of food. Marketers overtly promote certain foods as aphrodisiacs. Food, in films such as, Like Water for Chocolate, Tampopo, and Babette’s Feast is cast as the seductress. Today many TV food channels feature sexy male chefs or seductive voluptuous women, as you can watch in the clips below.
At the bar with me drinking tequila and beer was an artist, a gallerist, and a curator/writer, so naturally representation of food in the visual arts came to mind. I am most curious about how food is seductively illustrated. Although in paintings, photography, sculpture, and video art food becomes the subject to express the communal, the sociological, and basic fundamental needs of nourishment. Some artists even use food as their medium, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vic Muniz, and Song Dong come to mind. I could ramble on page after page about food and art, (in fact, some have and Art:21 publishes a Gastro-Vision blog with an annual best of art and food; here is a link: http://blog.art21.org/2012/12/21/gastro-vision-the-best-in-food-art-2012/).
Food provides more than nutrition. Most foods possess meaning, originating from Greek mythology and relating today. Banquets and bacchanals were consuming passions in life as represented in both literature, and the visual arts. Attributes of Roman and Greek gods related to food, for example, grapes for Dionysus—the god of wine, and a sheaf of corn or wheat for Ceres—the grain goddess. The pomegranate has as many symbolisms as there are seeds in each fruit. In the myth of Proserpina who was abducted by Pluto, taken to the underworld and eventually rescued by Ceres, her mother, who secured her release from Hades. Alas, as the tragedy goes, because Proserpina ate the pomegranate in the underworld, she must descend to Hades half of every year, thus the pomegranate represents resurrection and immortality. The pomegranate is also associated with Venus and desire, and for some fertility. Eggs, too, symbolize fertility and broken eggs loss of virtuousness. Oysters (and mussels) are commonly known as aphrodisiacs, and cherries represent something precious and rare.
Coming back to my night at the bar, the seduction of food immediately allures me. Throughout history food in art signifies opulence, indulgence, gluttony, decadence, and sensuality. From the beginning, man’s (and woman’s) fall from paradise is blamed on the natural desire for earthly pleasure. Whereas, as the story goes, the apple led to all temptation.
Flirtatious scenes of seduction, lusciously and sumptuously depicted in 17th century still life paintings such as, Peter Wtewael’s “Kitchen Scene” and Jan Steen’s “The Dissolute Household” today seem subtle in comparison to Will Cotton’s sensually sweet paintings. (Whose fame escalated from his artistic collaboration with his mutually adoring fan, Katy Perry.)
Carolee Schneeman’s “Meat Joy”, performed in 1964 conjures Pieter Brueghel’s “Land of Cockaigne”, 1567 illustrating gluttonous indulgence admits an aftermath of insatiable fulfillment of desires.
“Meat Joy has the character of an erotic rite: excessive, indulgent, a celebration of flesh as material: raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, transparent plastic, rope, brushes, paper scrap. It’s propulsion is toward the ecstatic—shifting and turning between tenderness, wildness, precision, abandon: qualities which could at any moment be sensual, comic, joyous, repellent.” Quoted from Carolee Schneeman’s website.
Willem Claesz Heda’s “Still life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glassware”, 1635 illustrates the luxuries and richness pertaining to sumptuous feasts. Erro’s 1964 painting “Foodscape”, in a hyperbolic style depicts an excessiveness to wasteful abundance. The temptress, food, feeding insatiable appetites.
Zhang Huan’s “My New York”, 2007, performance makes a sociological and political commentary rather than seduction. I include this because food is used to the extreme as the spectacular. The performance created quite the sensation. (And, even inspired a Lady Gaga costume.) (here is a link to a video of the performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQTRI_eXo8M)
Speaking art performances that create a spectacle, Jennifer Rubell an art patron/artist/art celebrity combines food as the material and the subject expressing gluttony, decadence, and indulgence with her over-the-top lavish food orgy parties/ performances. Below is an image of honey glazed ribs…dig in.
Enjoy this video of her ‘installation’ at the Brooklyn Museum Gala reported by Jerry Saltz:
I am inspired to invite friends over for some home cooking…yummm…sumptuous!
In closing, I’ve provided a link to Ori Gerscht’s video ‘still life’ “Pomegranate”, which is sensual and violent, beautiful and unsettling. http://vimeo.com/23639516