As Opening Night Approaches...
Finding the sensate in food ~ luxuriating in the way it looks and tastes ~ is something we give a lot of attention to around here. If our comment cards ~ not to mention the word on the street ~ are anything to go by, it’s something we have learned to do rather well. But how to capture those same deeply satisfying elements in the works of art we exhibit (and let’s not mince words, hope to sell) in the fine art gallery we run next door to the restaurant has been more of a moving target.
Up to now the shows we’ve put together for Studio Barndiva, with the exception of Laura Parker’s Taste of Place, haven’t revolved around a single subject though it’s fair to say the artists we represent ~ Cohen, Minor, Morgan, Scheid, Youngblood, Sanchez, Rizzo ~ are all deeply invested in and take inspiration from the magnificent foodshed we live in. I loved the idea of Salon des Sens when San Francisco curator Maggie Spicer first approached me with the idea of collaborating because it presented an opportunity to mount an exhibit where artists from across the Bay Area could join our existing group in an attempt to answer in paint, photography, video and sculpture a question which has come to vex us: What really constitutes art when it comes to food?
We live in a technological culture that increasingly tries to seduce us with fastidiously perfect images which glorify food in much the same way pornography exploits sex. Every year thousands of cookbooks and magazines are published that cater to a food as porn continuum based on the titillation and voyeuristic charge we get from looking at something we cannot physically touch. Social acceptability that it's food and not sex does not alter the fact that arousal is the goal when food is idolized in order to make us long for it. Qualitative differences abound, of course ~ one man's mind bending, scientifically inspired images from a series like Modernist Cuisine is another's Red Lobster advert on TV, but the end game is the same. Like sex, we go in knowing there is no substitute for what we feel when we experience the real thing, but in a revealing way that knowledge is part and parcel of the attraction.
Which begs the question Maggie and I are posing with Salon des Sens: if actual hunger is not being sated by this kind of idolatry, is there something beyond longing which we crave from these images? Is there a difference between the earnest documentation found in cookbooks and food magazines and the commercialization of endless junk food adverts? What more might we expect from work that takes food as its subject matter but asks us to elevate it to an artistic level? I’m not, in general, a great believer in the ‘reception theory’ of art where one’s personal experience is used as the litmus test for the efficacy of a work rather than the forces the artist had a hand in creating, but when it comes to a subject so basic to our needs it stands to reason our response is bound to be highly personal. More so than a painting of a landscape or a portrait, even if we know the terrain or the face well. But does that mean food as a subject for art can never really move beyond a personal narrative the way Mona Lisa’s smile, Matisse’s dancers or Cezanne's landscapes are infinitely about so much more than the subject matter they present?
Salon des Sens will not provide definitive answers to these questions, but we’re confident the artists we’ve selected have the talent to frame them with a level of provocation that’s in sync with the true spirit of a salon.
The best art is a conversation you start with yourself where, if the art is good, some of your deepest longings to know more about what it means to be alive can be addressed in a way that leaves you wanting more ~ of life and art. In this way Caren Alpert’s work penetrates the organic yet formal elements of raw ingredients, while Maren Caruso elegantly dissects and codifies what we make from them; Michael Lamotte renders exquisite poetic light redolent of the earth, while John Youngblood documents with an Atget like respect the contours of farmworker's worn faces and hands. The movie Drew Kelly and I have made traces the human journey one plate of food takes to reach the table, while Susan Preston’s compost piece contemplates what should be the companion question ~ where all that food goes after we eat it. All the artists in Salon des Sens offer a way into a discussion we need to be having about this most precious stuff. The more we understand food in all its forms and expressions, the more we can understand what it represents: nothing less than our tenacious hold on life.
Wandering through SFMOMA on Saturday I took a detour from the Mexican photography exhibit we’d come to see and ended up in front of a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Display Cakes, like the best of Thiebaud, straddles representation and abstraction by taking desirable, seemingly well known objects and rendering them (and crucially, their shadows) into another dimension, one which hums with mysterious new possibility. What I’d never noticed before was how beautifully Thiebaud applies his paint, creating luscious texture across the surface of his cakes which elevates their formal qualities so they appear both seductive yet ironic. Go ahead, it seemed to say, swipe your finger across my frosting and see what you get. It won’t be sweet. Is that what you were hoping for?
Salon des Sens, with an opening reception on June 2 hosted by our good friends at Copain Winery and St. George Spirits, will run through June 12. Join us.
The Great Freddy Cole comes to Barndiva this Sunday
Tickets are going fast for both shows of this consummate jazz pianist and singer who kicks off the opening weekend of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. JCB is pouring their sparkling and the weather is promising to be splendid when Freddy plays his grand in the gardens with an incredible line up that includes Randy Napoleon, Elias Bailey and Curtis Boyd. The Freddy Cole Quartet will preform an afternoon show at 4, followed by a Gold Circle JCB wine reception in the Studio Barndiva Gardens. The second show begins at 7. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here, but if you're hoping for the Freddy Cole Sunday Supper there may be a few remaining reservations to be had by calling 431 0100. The concert is dedicated to the memory of David Dietz.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)