A few weeks ago I went to the incredible Art Institute of Chicago. It’s a phenomenal piece of art in and of itself, let alone housing a massive collection of priceless art. The exhibit I specifically went to see is entitled, “Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine”. The exhibit consists of paintings, some sculptures, and other ‘bits and bobs’ (is that a British term?) from the 18th century, through the 20th century. In a nutshell (pun intended) it’s a wonderful insight into the culture of various time periods as seen through art and food.
I use to think of any art that involved food in terms of a painting of a bowl of fruit. That’s it. That’s what I thought. Just a bunch of grapes wrapped around a couple of oranges and an apple thrown in for good measure. Wait, I think I know where that comes from. Grade 8 art class. Art has never been my forte, yet I am in complete and utter awe of those who possess such talents. Now that I’ve done a quick 2-second analysis on my questionable summation of the art world and food, I must confess the exhibit was spectacular. What intrigued me most was the representation of the culture at the time the art was completed. For example, in antebellum America, renderings of food showcased affluence and increasing wealth.
Andy Warhol used art and food to comment about the ways in which mass consumption greatly affected the American experience of food. Warhol seemed to abhor the mass-production of food in America, and perceived it would lead to gluttony; further, he felt it represented the lack of implications on humans by the manufacturers. So, if you’ve ever wondered why Mr. Warhol painted tins of Campbell’s Soup, wonder no more. Or, at least, please do not wonder aloud as you may spill your soup!
This is one of Andy Warhol’s paintings of a Campbell’s Soup tin. I do not know the particular year this was painted. I saw it up close, and, well, let’s just say it is what it is: a painting of a can of soup. Mind you, I rather like Campbell’s soup, so this was just fine by me.
Ah, onto the next painting, shall we? I must say that the crowning glory for me was to see the original Norman Rockwell painting entitled, “Freedom from Want”, or “Thanksgiving”, which was painted in 1943. It is truly an iconic piece, and I think many of us have come to see it as a symbol of what we envision as the stereotypical, ‘perfect’ Thanksgiving meal. I stood in front of the original painting. I smiled, and pictured Norman Rockwell in front of a blank canvas, ideas rolling around his mind as to what and how to paint this memorable meal in oil (yes, pun intended, but it was done in oil paints!).
And then, my nostalgic smile turned itself to the ‘annoyed’ dial. Too many to count, I was besieged by a group of school children who ran up to the painting (well, to the wire holding us back from actually getting too close to this priceless artwork). I did not get the feeling the children realized the importance or significance of this work of art. There was a teacher standing close by, but he didn’t appear to be too interested in keeping things in check, as it were. I was pleased that these kids were visiting this amazing exhibit; however, I felt rather upset that it seemed to be a day off school rather than an opportunity for some first-hand learning about major works of art. I took another look at the turkey, and walked away.
I must also tell you that it is strictly forbidden to take any photographs inside the Art Institute of Chicago. And, as a law-abiding Canadian, I did not breach this rule. However, if you take a look at this picture, which is a picture I found of people looking at the painting why, someone had to take it. Not I, said the Canadian!
Just as a side-note, the nice folks at the Art Institute of Chicago have enforceable rules about eating in the exhibit areas. Okay, I get it, but if you are going to see this exhibit, either eat before you enter, or better yet, take a picture of your lunch along for the ride so you don’t get too hungry. You will be in good company with photos of food! 🙂