You Art What You Eat: Food As Art Material


of an Exhibition

by Justine Roberts

Published on January 06, 2010, Modified on June 06, 2015

  • Description:

    Mass MoCA is about 3 hours from where I live and I travel with three small children, so it takes a compelling show to get me there. You Art What You Eat: Food as Art Material in Kidspace, the museum’s hands-on family gallery, did not disappoint. The show is fun, funny, visually engaging and interesting on enough levels that adults and children can enjoy it together. In addition to being appropriate for its family audience, the show also continues a tradition of Kidspace to take children seriously as museum-goers. It presents materials and themes that younger visitors can appreciate, drawing them into the broader experience of viewing and interacting with artworks in the museum setting.

    You Art What You Eat is Kidspace’s largest group-show to date, featuring 5 artists who use food as their primary material and inspiration in sculptures, dioramas, photographs, video, paintings, installation, and even in song. There are two children’s book authors in the show: Saxton Freymann whose books have inspired art-making at my own dinner table, and Joan Steiner who works in visual puns in her series Look Alikes. In addition there are Jell-O sculptures of cities and historical monuments by Liz Hickok, candy wrapper curtains by Luisa Caldwell, and two installations by Chandra Bocci.

    My favorite works were Bocci’s. In Coral Reef ice cream cones and pastel mints mix with plastic sponges and other materials to create a 3-D reef colonizing three large windowsills. The use of man-made materials and processed foods to represent the natural beauty and fragility of reefs underscores just how un-natural many of our foods are, and link that to the environmental impact of our food choices. Her other piece, a 14’ Big Bang made from gummies stretched out on wires extending down and even overhead from a central core, also uses a fabricated material to talk about the most fundamental organic process of creation.

    Although the artworks have a point the show is not about getting people to change their eating habits. In fact, with the exception of Freymann, all the other artists work with candy. Half the fun is in identifying the food used in the work, a kind of I Spy game that gives visual pleasure while encouraging close attention and visual discrimination.

    In the art making area visitors had access to fruit loops, pasta, beans, food stickers, and other supplies with which to make their own food art. This was the one area I was slightly disappointed. I would have liked to see more art-making tools such as an animation station, or light board for example. The gallery is big enough to develop a richer creation experience.

    Visitors were also invited to contribute to a collaborative food mural that hung on one wall. A graphic suggested that this group work referenced the Sol LeWitt show installed elsewhere in the museum. While I didn’t see the specific connection I appreciated the point that visitors to this gallery were invited to explore the museum as a whole and that there were things throughout the exhibits that family audiences would appreciate. I think it is fair to measure the success of Kidspace in large part in its ability to get children to see Mass MoCA as their place too, and adults to see it as a family destination. According to that criteria, You Art What You Eat succeeded in spades.

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