This edition of Il Bisonte Journal is the second one dedicated to food culture. We wonder about what it means when food appears in art, when what nourishes us is showcased.
When he painted the Mound of Butter, sometime between 1875 and 1885, what was Antoine Vollon trying to communicate? He had chosen the title of the picture himself, and in fact it seems quite apt. There on the table, near the draped cheesecloth base or from behind an egg, you might expect to see a mountaineer emerge, ready to scale the salty, yellow cliff. This glob of butter, as if it were a sculpture, was molded into another object.
The opposite happens with American artist Wayne Thiebaud’s series on Cakes, painted over several years. They are nothing but rich, colorfully iced cakes. Do they recall the painter’s lean childhood? Or the display cases of sweet pastries and sandwiches that flow non-stop in an imaginative world? Under bright museum lights, they are ready to welcome whatever gaze we might cast their way.
Food in art can be so many different things. Sometimes it’s just an inert object, placed there to fill an empty space. Other times it’s the undisputed star, and art is employed to celebrate its bounty. Still other times it’s a minor character, indeed the poorest of them all, and its presence in the piece seems like someone’s hunger needing to be satisfied. Yes, all this depends on the artists’ will and their history. And also on the spectators’ perspective, viewing food in art. So, the choice is really up to us.