For as long as there has been art, man has used it to depict that which was most important to him at the time. Throughout the history of art three subjects have been consistently present through every era--religion, ***, and food. Food? Yes, from the very first cave paintings to Claes Oldenburg's giant, vinyl, cheeseburger sculpture, whether it was still on the hoof or hot off the grill, the subject of food has always been as popular with artists as those who drool over their subject matter. Leonardo combined food and religion in his Last Supper while Michelangelo did so with his sculpture of Bacchus (aka. Adam). The Flemish painters used it in still-lifes that still make our mouths water while Andy Warhol silk-screened our favorite beverage (or at least the bottle) all over one of his paintings. And in many of his paintings/illustrations, Norman Rockwell seems almost OBSESSED with food.
Recently, in San Francisco, there opened an art exhibit at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park that is ALSO obsessed with food. "A Feast for the Eye: Food in Art" is a smorgasbord of some 250 pieces of art. Few of them are the traditional still-lifes we might expect. There are photos, films, paintings, cartoons, sculpture, dishes, silver, crystal stemware, a spread fit for a king, yet not one morsel of it is edible (to avoid the turnout of tiny art connoisseurs with six or more legs). Fittingly, the catalog for the exhibit is in the form of a COOKBOOK and the curator is a self-described amateur chef. Dagwood's sandwich is there, as is a coat that looks like a cabbage, a purse that looks like a loaf of bread, and (bowing to Warhol) Pop Art silk-screen prints straight from the supermarket of Ritz cracker boxes and Perrier bottles.
There is also a serious side to the show, a photograph from 1949 of a British family eating in squalor and an Italian POW's book of recipes compiled of prisoners' recollections of their mothers' cooking. There is a painting from turn-of-the-century France which depicts two starving men boiling shoe leather. The show delves into food as a symbol of wealth and power and comments on those who are powerless without it. The decorative arts are not slighted. Displays in this area include a silver spice box with lock and key from Peru and an intricately crafted silver gravy boat with indications that it has been used over the years as something more than just an art object. The show kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "food for thought." The exhibit runs through December 13.