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Commentary Detail

Food and Art
Commentary by: Nancy Kranzberg
Aired June 02, 2012


There's an incredibly long history of food as a theme in the visual arts. An interesting article on the internet says that historical studies show that the Greeks and Romans prided themselves in the realistic depiction of food in artworks. A glass bowl of fruit was commonly included in Roman paintings to boast of the delicacies that the rich citizens of Rome enjoyed, and of the generous hospitality they had to offer.

"Food Glorious Food" - that was the title of last month's wonderful exhibition at Art St Louis. According to Chandler Branch, the director of the institution, "What started as a nifty idea (not mine) has blossomed into something quite special. St.Louis was treated to the glory of things local when Art Saint Louis presented "Food Glorious Food". It involved food, lots of food, along with wine and music. At the center of it all was a new food-inspired art exhibit juried by "Sauce Magazine" Alison Mace and Something Elegant's Catering's Linda Pilcher, featuring the works of 51 local artists. Ceramics, painting, photography, mixed media, paper, printmaking, sculpture and more: there was something to please every palate. And it was all available "to go."

Even farther back, archaeologists have found drawings of food on the walls of Egyptian pyramids. In ancient Egyptian culture it was believed that those drawings, through magical properties, would nourish those gone on it to the afterlife.

During the Renaissance still life objects were incorporated into paintings with other themes and in the 16h and 17th century there was increased interest in scientific examination, and as a result, inanimate objects were studied and depicted by artists in their most realistic form.

Then there were the Dutch realists whose impressive kitchen and market paintings featured various displays of food fare on counters and tables. Cezanne(1839-1906) did incredibly luscious still lifes of fruit often in beautiful containers. Van Gogh was also known for his bowls of apples and oranges.

In modern and contemporary times the works of Warhol, Thiebaud, and Oldenberg use food themes to reflect our consumer driven economy and some contemporary pieces are very wild and innovative such as Thai artist Rikrit Tiravanija who was known in the 1990's for staging performance events at galleries during which he would make home-cooked Thai meals and feed everyone who attended.

Docents at the Met in New York City lead tours of the History of and Symbolism of Food in Art and I'll bet one of the intellectual docents at the Saint Louis Art Museum would do one for you if you inquired.

Victoria Scoumis taught a course at the Pittsburgh David B.Oliver High School entitled, "Food and Art: An Appetizing Approach to Art History and one can get a Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston Universitiesí Metropolitan College.

It's not only the visual arts that have food themes. Think of some of our very popular movies such as "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "Julie and Julia", and "Like Water for Chocolate."

In literature, not counting cookbooks, food has always been a common theme in one way or another. Take for example John Varriano's book, "Tastes and Temptations: Food in Art in Renaissance Italy. It's a very interesting read which draws parallels between the history of food and art history. A description of Kenneth Bendiner's "Food in Painting" says,"From hearty meals being devoured by peasants in a Bruegel canvas to the lush and lifelike fruits of a trompe l'oeil, food has enjoyed a central place in paintings for centuries." Bendiner journeys from the Renaissance to the present day.

Ruth Reichl the last editor of the now defunct "Gourmet Magazine" and a very well known food critic, writer, and television producer has written best selling memoirs such as "Tender at the Bone", "Growing Up at the Table", and "Garlic and Sapphires"

Now how am I supposed to get back on my diet when tempted by all the gustatory stimulants offered in the arts?


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Nancy Kranzberg

Nancy Kranzberg

Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.

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