It’s summertime and, if you believe the junk magazines—I see that InTouch stashed between the pages of your ArtForum—carbohydrates will ruin you and your chances of bikini (or board short) bliss. They may just ruin your life. Luckily, there are many things to do with processed grains and refined sugar besides putting them in your mouth. Food has been used as an art material for many reasons, ranging from necessity (i.e. prior to the development of oil painting, pigments were bound with egg yolk in tempera), to novelty, to symbolic and conceptual value.
Here’s a (very) short list of artists known for their use of sugars and starch. This is by no means intended to be comprehensive so feel free to add to it below in the comments section.
1. Felix Gonzalez-Torres was selected to represent the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale, becoming the second artist to receive this honor posthumously. He believed that politics infused all art regardless of intention and he once said that “the most successful of all political moves are ones that don’t appear to be ‘political.’” His candy spills and installations are among his signature works and touch on challenging themes and current events including the Gulf War and the AIDS crisis. Black licorice resembles missiles and piles of wrapped hard candies in his subtle protest piece Untitled (Public Opinion). Felix Gonzales-Torres is among Season 2 artist Do-Ho Suh’s favorite artists.
2. Joseph Beuys was drawn to food as art materials and to the concept of art as nourishment. The instability of food materials meant that they would change, somewhat unpredictably, over time. Beuys used chocolate, sausage, gelatin, margarine, and butter in his work. He was featured in a small show at Harvard called Eat Art. Honey was one of the materials that particularly interested Joseph Beuys, as it had mystical connotations. See Honey is flowing in all directions.
3. Chandra Bocci’s Gummy Big Bang II is a literal explosion of a gummies: an ark’s worth of eviscerated bears, worms, and tarantulas fill a 120 square foot space. This piece was originally featured in the 2006 Portland Art Museum Oregon Biennial and is currently part of a curated collection at the CW Network (the same CW that shows the Gilmore Girls). Gummy Big Bang I had melted throughout the course of an installation in Portland and was disposed of at the end of the show.
4. YaYa Chou: Some of her gummy bear pieces are currently on display in the Transformed group show at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia.
On her website, Chou discusses her gummy pieces: “In this series, I explored the relationship between food consumption and class. The bright colors and soft texture of children’s snacks construct a romantic scenario which draws my attention to the dangerous ingredient behind them. By rearranging the embellished snacks in the forms of luxury commodity, I wish to pose the questions: Who consume these foods? Who has the choice to choose?”
Whereas the chandelier is a clever use of materials, her piece Joy-Coated, a child mannequin covered in gummy bears, is a comment on the childhood obesity epidemic.
More on gummy bears: an article about artists’ use of gummy bears appeared in Columbia University’s news service here.
5. Tatsumi Orimoto a.k.a Bread Man: Japanese performance artist Tatsumi Orimoto has traveled to major cities as his alter-ego Bread Man, whose entire face is covered by a mask of baguette and twine. As Bread Man, he tries to communicate with people, exploring the idea that bread is universal. The Art Museum of São Paulo held a major Orimoto retrospective earlier this year. An older article from the Japan Times is here. It discusses reactions to Orimoto’s work.
6. (Cheating here: the sugar is the subject and not the medium, but she does bake her own props) Sharon Core: in her Thibauds series, Ms. Core recreates several of Wayne Thibaud’s iconic paintings, known for their thick use of impasto frosting, as photographs. A description of her process can be found on the Guggenheim’s website.
7. Sweetness and Light: A Sugar Show. Exhibit from E32 in New York City in February 2008.