The ubiquitous turns uncommon in the latest exhibition to open at Opalka Gallery.
In “Chew: Food As Muse” contemporary artists examine the edible subject matter, looking at everything from the way meat is produced to the importance of sharing a meal with others.
Curated by Judie Gilmore of Opalka and Elizabeth Dubben, the director of Collar Works in Troy, the exhibition all started with a series of charming food drawings by Mie Yim.
Dozens of tiny pastel depictions of food line one exhibition wall, all done on Martha Stewart and Benjamin Moore paint chips. There’s a miniature dish of ice cream, speckled with rainbow sprinkles; then there are savory dishes like shrimp.
They’re simple and sweet, invoking the sense of both comfort and delight that food can bring.
According to the label text, Yim creates these amuse bouches (French for "mouth amuser") drawings for her loved ones, sharing food and the joy that comes with it. She’s always working on them, and the drawings balance out the large abstract paintings, which she is also known for.
Not too far away from Yim’s work is a multi-medium project by Dana Sherwood that captures the ritualized way that humans treat food, though not in the way one would expect. Sherwood cooks elaborate feasts, using whimsical dishes and molds, not for humans, but nighttime neighborhood creatures.
In an amusing video, Sherwood sets up a tiny table with teacups and saucers, all filled with grapes and donuts and gelatinous foods. She continues to film the table through the night as raccoons, a possum and a cat or two stop by. The raccoons seem to enjoy the feast the most, pushing dishes off the table and fearlessly digging through the spiraled aspic.
Outside of the video (which, at over 11 minutes long, is well worth a watch or two), Sherwood also depicts the process in watercolor paintings that seem to be out of “The Wind in the Willows,” or another beloved tale.
While it’s comical, her work also draws attention to the impact that humans have on the natural world.
On the more serious side of the exhibition is Sang Wook Lee’s work. A group of bright white overalls is suspended from above and each pair is laden with bright red screenprints of slaughter scenes. Called “The Mass Killings of Pigs in Korea,” the installation is haunting and calls attention to a process many shy away from when making their own culinary choices.
Caren Alpert’s work will also have viewers rethinking their food but from an aesthetic rather than an ethical perspective. Sand-colored continents seem to drift apart in one photograph in her “terra cibus” series. In another, a bumpy desert glows, and in another, the composition is consumed with a thick red sloping landscape.
Each photo gives viewers a magnified look at common foods like table salt, banana skin or (as in the above case) red licorice, though each piece also seems to echo larger landscapes in one way or another.
As Alpert states in the label copy: “How distinct is a pile of table salt from miles and miles of icebergs? The closer the lens got, the more I saw food — and consumers of food — as part of a larger ecosystem.”
At the heart of the exhibition, the act of dining is explored through a distorted setting that plays with perspective. In Isabel Chun’s “Table for Two,” an actual dinner table and chairs are set up next to a semblance of one that looks as though it’s been flattened against a wall. It makes the piece seem reminiscent of a scene from “Alice in Wonderland” and draws attention to how the outside world disappears when people sit down to enjoy a meal together (sans cell phones, of course).
The exhibition gets playful again with cloth Super Soakers mixed with La Croix cans. In Mimi O Chun’s “Sparkling Soakers,” the artist juxtaposes the two intensely marketed products, comically recontextualizing them both.
“Chew” combines the contemplative with the cheery to celebrate food, a topic that has long since been an inspiration for artists (think Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” or Georgia O’Keefe’s still lifes).
“Each piece is more than just a representation of food, but we also wanted it to read at that level too. I think it’s very approachable,” Gilmore said.
The exhibition is open through Dec. 20. On Nov. 21 from 6-9 p.m. “Chew” artists Frida Foberg and Natasha Holmes present a collaborative dinner with Opalka and Arts Letters & Numbers. Tickets are $45 per individual and $85 per couple. Register at sage.edu/supperclub.
For more info about “Chew: Food As Muse” visit opalka.sage.edu.