Because of its importance in everyday life, food has been always an unlimited source of inspiration for Art in all its aspects. In 1599, for the first time, food from object becomes subject, thanks to the Baroque master Caravaggio and his still life painting “Basket of Fruits”. Centuries go by, but food is always the protagonist of Art. In fact, the ‘60’s Pop Art employs food as the symbol of society’s conspicuous consumption and especially in 1967 the painter Daniel Spoerri coins the expression “Eat Art” to encourage a critical observation on the fundamental principles of nourishment. Nowadays there are a lot of artistic forms that interpret the theme of food more consciously, also in relation to its way of production and consumption, in terms of sustainability for the environment and of distribution for the world’s populations.
The contaminations between food and art, according to a wide and all-embracing point of view, are the object of the impressive exhibition “Arts & Food. Rituals since 1851”, curated by Germano Celant and hosted in La Triennale di Milano, which, on the occasion of Expo 2015, has become the Expo’s Visual and Applied Arts’ Pavilion. It shows different stages of expression and creativity and spreads to a wide audience various habits, related to a particular historic moment or cultural custom. The artistic itinerary, divided into fifteen rooms, goes back over the mixture between Art and food from 1851, when the first universal exposition took place in London, to the present time, passing through eclectic masterpieces lent by museums, public and private institutions, artists and international collectors, in line with the Expo’s core theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. Art inspired by food is presented in all its varied expressions, linked both to the private consumption and to the public and convivial sphere: paintings, furniture, objects, sculptures, domestic appliances, photos, menus, books and record covers offer a multi-faceted perspective involving all the senses and lay the basis for future interpretations, starting from the past. Among the artists exposed, Urs Fisher has merged food and architecture and he has presented his Bread House, a typical Swiss chalet made out of loaves of bread and bread crumbs with a support structure underneath. The Swiss-born sculptor is used to playing with food, especially with eggs: in fact, in his “Problem Paintings” he has portrayed some faces overlaid with sunny-side-up fried eggs or covered by halved fruits and vegetables. He has also hung a preserved croissant with a preserved butterfly on it from a thread on the ceilings of galleries and museums. His works of art with food as the main character are always ambiguous and they surprise the visitors with their hidden meanings.
Pop Art came from the combination of Art and mass-media culture. It reproduces the impersonal images proposed by advertising that characterize the American popular culture. Among these, food plays an important role and it is often portrayed in paintings. In the Sixties, the artist Andy Warhol imitates the industrial production in series and creates some works of art, produced by a printmaking method and dedicated to the mass culture’s most representative objects of that time, like the Campbell’s Soup Cans, with graphics similar to that of comics and advertising. This symbolizes, on one hand, the increasing society’s massification, starting with the obsessive presence of the same products in succession on the supermarket’s shelves, and, on the other, this communicates a sort of equality, according to the American myth, that dreams of the same possibilities for all people. With Warhol, food becomes also a form of advertising: the artist produced the album of the American rock band “The Velvet Underground & Nico” and he drew its controversial cover, representing a simple bright yellow banana, that in some of the first editions could be also peeled, revealing a flesh-coloured banana underneath. This cover appeared at number ten on Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Covers of All Time.
From paintings with food as protagonist to paintings made of food. This is the art of the Malaysian artist Hong Yi, better known by her nickname “Red”, graduated with a Master of Architecture from the University of Melbourne. Hong Yi is known for her ability to use simple everyday elements to create extraordinary works of art, like her first portrait of the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, made of seven kilograms of sunflower seeds. Among the materials she uses, there is also a lot of fruits and vegetables, that form landscapes, portraits and other representations with a white plate as canvas. Her works are sought after by clients from around the world and Hong Yi has been invited as host in various international conferences. In 2014 the famous actor Jackie Chan commissioned her to create a portrait of himself with 64,000 chopsticks for his 60th birthday and the video of the making has been watched 1.8 million times on You Tube.
In our list couldn’t be missing the consolatory food par excellence, chocolate, that, treated by expert hands, can create sensational works of art. The “King of chocolate”, like he is used to being called, is the German Ernst Knam, recently awarded with the coveted Tre Torte recognition in the Gambero Rosso’s “Pasticceri e Pasticcerie d’Italia 2017” guide. He has also received a lot of international rewards and he is the author of various cookbooks. For him, confectionery is a real form of art: the aesthetics is essential, because cakes cannot only have a good taste, but they must be beautiful and attractive. Knam loves chocolate since his childhood and he has turned his passion into a job. He is particularly known for his manufacturing of chocolate, to which he adds his great creativity and top quality ingredients, that he carefully selects, creating unusual and original combinations of flavours, in particular by using spices and fruits.