This season, the Art Institute of Chicago
invites visitors to feast their eyes on the rich tradition of food in American art with the opening of the major exhibition Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. Exploring the many meanings and interpretations of eating in America, Art and Appetiteon view from November 12, 2013 through January 27, 2014 in the museums Regenstein Hallbrings together 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century to demonstrate how depictions of food have allowed American artists to both celebrate and critique everything from the national diet to society and politics. Following its premiere at the Art Institute, Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine will travel to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas (February 22May 18, 2014).
Art and Appetite takes a new approach to American paintings of food, contextualizing them to rediscover the meanings they held for their makers and their public. Despite the prevalence of such works, research has rarely focused on the cultural significance of the objects depicted in these paintings, nor has it addressed how these paintings embodied changing ideals throughout the nations history. Thematically and chronologically organized, Art and Appetite breaks with the traditional histories of the genre to explore how it illuminates American attitudes about patriotism and politics, identity and gender, progress and history, and production and consumption. The exhibition examines the agricultural bounty of the new world, Victorian-era excess, debates over temperance, the rise of restaurants and café culture, the changes wrought by 20th-century mass production, and much moreall represented in American art spanning 250 years. A wealth of fascinating materials are also showcased in the exhibition, including menus, cookbooks, advertisements, and decorative arts.
From the earliest years of the United States, American artists such as Raphaelle Peale used still-life painting to express cultural, political, and social values, elevating the genre to a significant aesthetic language. Later, in antebellum America, depictions of food highlighted abundance, increasing wealth, and changing social roles, while elegant decanters of wine and spirits in still-life paintings by John F. Francis reflected the prevalence of drinking and the mid-century debates over temperance. During the Gilded Age, despite the implications of the term, American artists moved away from excess and eschewed high Victorian opulence in favor of painting the simple meal. Many artists, such as William Harnett or De Scott Evans, also used food pictures to serve up biting political commentary that addressed the social and economic transformations of the 1880s and 1890s.
In the 20th century new ways of eating and socializing began to change depictions of food in art. Restaurant diningstill novel in the United States in the late 19th centurybecame a common subject in the works of William Glackens, John Sloan, and others. Café and cocktail culture, described in the work of Stuart Davis and Gerald Murphy, became increasingly important even as Prohibition banned the consumption of alcohol. Modernist artists employed food in their radically new explorations of pictorial form, all the while challenging national ideals of family and home. Finally, during the 1950s and 1960s, Pop artists, among them Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, addressed the ways in which mass production and consumption
dramatically altered the American experience of food. Hamburgers, fries, and cakes were depicted as objects of mass-produced comestibles without human referent. Artists employed new means to explore the visual power of advertising, the standardization of factory-produced meals, and the commercialization of American appetites.
Today, as professional and home chefs increasingly turn toward local, organic food and American society ponders its history as a fast-food nation, this exhibition on the historical art of eating is highly relevant, offering visitors the chance to look at depictions of American food and culture with new meaning and fresh eyes.