The multiple relationships between the arts and food are explored by Germano Celant in the pavilion Arts & Foods, the only theme area of Expo Milano 2015 made in the city, in the interior and outdoor spaces (7000 sq meters) of the Triennale di Milano, until 1 November
Interview with Germano Celant
The major exhibition ‘Arts & Foods Rituals since 1851’ that opens on 8 April at the Triennale di Milano is the Art Pa vilion of Expo Milano 2015, in the overall event on the theme ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’: what are the points of conta ct with this subject, and how is the show itinerary organized?
“The project began in 2011 as a response to the thematic stimulus of Expo 2015, and it is part of the series of connections I have proposed from 1976 to the present on the encounter of art with other languages of visual and performative creativity. After “Arte & Ambiente”, 1976, “Arte & Media”, 1977, “Arte & Moda”, 1996, “Arte & Architettura”, 2004, “Arte & Suono”, 2014, today we have reached “Arts & Foods”.
Here I develop a discourse in time, since 1851, the date of the first Universal Exposition in London, on practices concerning nutrition – both physical and intellectual, visual and olfactory, formal and aesthetic, informative and communicative, sensual and spiritual – with respect to the eating and preparation of real and concrete, iconic and virtual foods. The entire itinerary will bear witness to the expression of culinary and nutritional rituals through all languages – hence the plural nouns of the title ‘Arts & Foods’ – from architecture to art, design to cinema, photography to television, publishing to printing, advertising to music, fashion to industry.
A 360-degree panorama organized in 7000 sq meters of the historic building designed by Giovanni Muzio in 1933, featuring over 2000 exhibits including 1000 design objects, 350 photographs, 120 film excerpts, 400 art works, 15 actual-size settings, including two works of architecture by Jean Prouvé and Maneval, dining rooms and bars, from Art Nouveau to Cubism, Futurism to Neoplasticism, Fluxus to the present.
A voyage designed by Italo Rota with graphic coordination by Irma Boom crossing all the forms of creativity, from popular to aristocratic, bourgeois to experimental, local to global, as in the installations that have to do with places of work, such as those of the butcher, or personal, obsessive studies, like the desk on which Gabriele D’Annunzio ate his meals, in solitude.
The whole show can be crossed by following different threads, found in the various historical sections – from 1851 to 1950, 1951 to 1980, 1981 to 2015 – like the history of the dining table from the 1800s to the 1900s, with its objects, to the production of utensils, from knives to glasses, carafes to coffeepots to cookware, or the areas of travel food, outdoor picnics in Europe and Asia, eating on airplanes and in outer space.
Of course photographs can show the external processes, markets, retaining, sales, as well as transport and industrial production. Cinema addresses all the phases of representation of the ritual of dining, from silent films to Hollywood blockbusters, as well as avant-garde experimentation. Architecture can function as a tool of popular communication, and as the solution of spaces, as in the case of wineries. Fashion is intertwined with everything, from Elsa Schiaparelli to Issey Miyake.
And then there is the mass market focus on chefs, creating genuine superstars, with roots in the representations of the great art protagonists like Claude Monet. In short, an encyclopedic enterprise where masterpieces intertwine with anthropological documents, including the rituals of cannibalism that inspired the avant-gardes of Surrealism, and Brazilian culture.”
What are the main nodes of the story, the original aspects and specta cular moments?
“First of all, the subdivision into historical periods – from 1851 to the early 2000s – reflects the continuation of the tradition of rituals and objects, in their representation and production, from Impressionism to Expressionism, folk art to Art Nouveau, as well as the advent of an experimental path seen in the works of the avant-gardes, from the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to the design of Christopher Dresser, Josef Hoffmann, Peter Behrens.
All enhanced, starting in 1909, by the totalizing aesthetic wave of international Cubism and Russian and Italian Futurism, which represented in the exhibition with the dining rooms of Czech Cubism and that of Gerardo Dottori, disrupts all the canons of design, reaching the point of including all the objects connected with eating.
After this comes the advent of Rationalism and Neoplasticism, shown in the exhibition through the model on a scale of 1/100 of the Café Aubette, designed in 1928 by Theo van Doesburg with the collaboration of Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, or the kitchen by Le Corbusier, the first example of a ‘machine for cooking’.
In parallel – from 1851 to 1950 – art supplies iconography of food with its still lifes, from Auguste Renoir to Paul Gauguin, James Ensor to Giovanni Segantini, Umberto Boccioni to Giorgio De Chirico, Giorgio Morandi to Filippo
De Pisis, while photography documents the territories of shops and cafes, bars and markets, with works by Man Ray, Florence Henri and many reproductions of Alinari.
On the level of unprecedented coverage, the entire exhibition itinerary is accompanied by a red thread, that of things that are ‘forbidden to adults’, and can be viewed only by children. Here the subject of food is addressed through toys, from kitchens to trucks that transport food, all in miniature, to reach the part that has to do with the period from 1951 to 1980, dominated by Pop Art and Fluxus, with the presence – only for kids – of one hundred paintings by Andy Warhol, silkscreens of toys and robots. An exceptional moment that only the non-adults will have the privilege of seeing at the height of their own gaze.”
The definition of a territory only for kids is a new development… will there be other surprises?
“More than surprises, there will be sensorial expansions. In the sense that Arts & Foods will expand to address literature, with quotations from authors and philosophers like Molière, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac and John Cage, and will present cookbooks and menus from 1851 to the present, covering the creative impact of publishing. Dozens and dozens of recipe books and brochures, also designed by artists like Edouard Manet, or written and illustrated by the likes of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Gio Ponti, will form an ideal library on the subject of food and dining. We are presently also studying how to document the historical presence of cooking odors, from the 1800s to the mid-1900s, recreating the compositions, also accompanied by audio suggestions of the various eras.”
The perspective seems to be oriented towards the senses… are there other less physical methods of crossing?
“Of course, from the outset of the project, we have inserted the theme of ‘food for the soul’ as a symbolic value, reflecting abstract and allegorical meanings. The ritual of nutrition, from meat to vegetables, is complex and differs from culture to culture, also due to religions that suggest precepts and offerings.
The result is a selection of works on the Last Supper, from Francisco Goya to Andy Warhol, Andres Serrano to Sam Taylor-Johnson, and different altars for votive rituals, from East to West. In this context there are also certain tools, from Oceania, that introduce the theme of cannibalism.”
Until the 1950s the image of food is a stimulus to represent the everyday landscape, like meals, the table, the dining room, the cafe and the picnic, and then this representation gives way to the presentation of the object itself…
“From the 1960s, with the advent of Pop Art in the United States, from Claes Oldenburg to Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol to Tom Wesselmann, the motif of food becomes sculpture and painting. Taking images from billboards or advertising, or the illustrations of newspapers and magazines, these artists directly evoke the hot dog or the ice cream cone, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Campbells soup can, putting them on the surface of the canvas or making them as threedimensional objects.
The reality of feeding itself is transformed into the hyperreal dimension of art. Paintings are transmuted into ‘promoters’ of goods, as if they were mass media tools. Of course there is the interpretation of individual languages, from cartoons to the iconography of industrial fetishes. Visual research becomes open to accepting and selecting any timely content, representing the promotional dimension of media, including the figure of the new film ‘divinities’ like Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse, exalting their artificial, virtual existence.
At the same time, in Europe, the interest is not so much in products as in eating itself. With Nouveau Réalisme and Fluxus – from Arman to Daniel Spoerri, Mimmo Rotella to Joseph Beuys – the tendency is to exalt the ceremonial form of feeding, connected with the rebirth of the being, marked by new physical and emotional conditions. Art adapts to the society of information and becomes operative, communicates a diversified, more creative way of life through everyday tools, newspapers and postcards, multiples and objects.
Parallel to these movements, in fact, the alternative culture of the hippies and the ecologists develops, urging a new birth that passes through symbolic foods and hallucinogens, capable of developing an original, expanded experience of consciousness. It is a parallel movement of positivism and nihilism that triggers an iconic and process vortex that calls for the complete abandon of previous, traditional schemes.”
The vision of Arts & Foods seems to be very positive… but aren’t there also negative aspects of food?
“Eating is also connected with the dramatic situations of bulimia, anorexia and world hunger. These subjects are addressed through photographic documentation on malnutrition, images shot by the Farm Security Administration and by reporters during the two world wars. The images of Don McCullin bear witness to the famine in Biafra, while the impulse of death through food is illustrated by the La Grande Bouffe by Marco Ferreri. Other painful, intimate and personal evidence, of the physical destruction caused by rejection or ingestion of food, is offered by the photographs of Antonie D’Agata and Jean Davis.”
Where does design fit into the landscape of Arts & Foods?
“The whole show is an ode to the experience of designing for food. From furniture to tools for conservation, glass utensils to appliances, convivial rituals to the market, the store and the supermarket, the otherness and the creativity of art give way to the functional purposes of crafts and trades. Tools ranging from the artisanal to the technological, that have had a decisive influence on our relationship with nutrition.
The exhibition sets out to offer a dialectical dimension between arts like painting and cinema, photography and sculpture, and industrial design to come to grips with its reason for being, which is not antithetical, but complementary. Today this opposition has weakened, and what counts is the trade value, no longer the usage value, so everything has become a commodity, even art. The curatorial attitude has been to no longer believe in the transcendence of art, to position it together with the other arts. I have followed the method applied in 1994 for ‘The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943-1968’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York, where all the languages were present to document the identity of Italian culture: here, the languages bring out the importance of the subject ‘food’.
Over the last decade we have seen a solemn consecration of the chef and of cooking, a way of proceeding that was extraneous to the sphere of art. Personalities like Ferran Adrià and Gualtiero Marchesi, Carlo Cracco and Davide Oldani, all the way to Gordon Ramsey, have bridged the gap between art and life in the kitchen. They have input their creativity of taste into global settings, becoming media protagonists. Not just by bringing out the mercantile aspect of their activity, but also through a new dimension of aesthetic and gustatory business. The entire show is a document of their complicity with the ‘designer’ who creates objects, foods, equipment and furniture, services and spaces, promoting their cultural consecration.
The story starts with a portrait by Monet and unfolds until the present. It is the same procedure that in the past, in 1996, led me – together with Ingrid Sischy and Luigi Settembrini – to assign artistic value to fashion, which at the time was considered a low, vulgar commodification, and later became a design fetish.
Getting back to industrial design connected to the production of useful objects, Arts & Foods is a voyage in design solutions as they were developed from Art Nouveau to the Werkbund, from Russian Constructivism to Italian Futurism, from the Bauhaus to the International Style, from Neoliberty to Memphis and Alchymia, including examples from Christopher Dresser to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Jean Prouvé to Verner Panton, Alvar Aalto to Le Corbusier, Gio Ponti to Marco Zanuso, Massimo Vignelli to Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini to Andrea Branzi.”
The analysis of Arts & Foods focuses on history, until the 1980s, at this point: what happens later, and how are the latest decades presented, in all the various languages?
“The period from 1970 to the present calls for a ‘jam session’ of the arts, in a magmatic situation where objects blend and mingle. So the last part of Arts & Foods is marked by reciprocal overlaps in which all the creative languages intertwine and are used across territories of creativity, from design to architecture, cinema to fashion, art to dining.
At this point, with the advent of Arte Povera and Body Art, the sensorial and carnal character becomes part of doing. Architectural constructions – from Mario Merz to Urs Fischer – are done with bread, sculptures are made with chocolate and oil – from Dieter Roth to Joseph Beuys – and the rituals of the table are enhanced by colorful foods, as in Antoni Miralda. The whole ritual of the banquet and of sitting around a table is contaminated by grafts between the human body and nutrition, as in the Surrealist event of Méret Oppenheim that is extended in the dinners of Subodh Gupta and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
The imagery of food also returns in the armchair of Jana Sterbak and the paintings of Marc Quinn, which make use of the concrete character and image of meat, or it is translated in the reconstruction of mobile kitchen machines, as in Joe Colombo and Tom Sachs. Alongside the impact of photography and new media, like television and the computer, that convey images of taste and distaste, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Joel Peter Witkin, Cindy Sherman to Andreas Gursky.”