The Silent Sitter: Food on view at “Food for Thought”

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

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Still life is dead. Sumptuous paintings of fruit, gleaming from strategic lighting, and textured, nearly tactile vegetables rarely populate the gallery scene these days. Rotten. Thrown out. Gone. Nature morte, as the French say, which translates literally into dead nature, self or temperment. There goes the celebrated painting subject of ChardinMonet and 17th– century Dutch masters.

So, it seems.

French history painter Paul Delaroche predicted a similar fate for the art of painting itself. “From now, painting is dead” – Delaroche is famously (well, infamously) remembered more for that pith, yet powerful phrase than his own art. However, to contextualize the quote, Delaroche was actually referring to the medium’s potential demise with the rise of photography.  Thankfully, this prediction never fleshed out. And, interestingly enough, it’s photography that brings nature morte to life in “Food for Thought: A Group Exhibition” at Robert Mann Gallery in Chelsea.

The small gallery has brought together 28 photographs of food from 24 artists, ranging from Surrealist Man Ray to nature lover Ansel Adams to contemporary photographers like Michiko Kon and Marco Ugolini. To the media-saturated foodie, this exhibition might just sound like an antiquated FoodPornDaily. However, there is more to “Food for Thought” than mere photographs of delicately plated dishes.

Whereas the popular trigger-happy foodie plates and photographs food simply for its sensory appeal, the artists in “Food for Thought” capture food as subject for further inspection. In portraiture terms, food isn’t simply lifeless, dime-a-dozen face but rather lively sitter looking beyond the canvas and asking the viewer to take a closer look. Here, food takes on a life of its own.

Paulette Tavormina wakes up the sleepy subject by toying with odd-shaped lemons, which resemble gaping alien-like mouths, and gives an anthropomorphic jolt to the citrus fruit. Irving Penn transforms brightly hued fruits into neat color blocks, thus converting nature’s bounty into commercial paint chips, albeit frozen, a la Yves Klein. In Robert Doisneau’s 1952 print, Picasso sprouts baguette fingers – one can almost hear the soft thuds of his doughy digits against the table.

In “Food for Thought,” artists find food in its natural environment – in the grocery store, on the kitchen counter, atop the feasting table – and gives us a snapshot of food at its liveliest and quirkiest.

Find out more about “Food for Thought: A Group Exhibition,” which is open until Saturday, May 14th.

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