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'Sweet Tooth: The Art of Dessert' puts America's obsession with sugar on display at Shelburne Museum
Kay Kurt, L’Icarus, 1990. Oil on linen, 72 x 108 in. Courtesy of the artist and albertz benda gallery.

SHELBURNE, VT.- Shelburne Museum’s exhibition, Sweet Tooth: The Art of Dessert, is on view in the Pizzagalli Center for Arts and Education’s Murphy Gallery until February 18, 2018. This decadent, contemporary art exhibition explores America’s appetite for tantalizing and tasty confections and its impact on modern visual culture.

Through installations of international and local artists working within the subject matter and dessert-themed mixed media, Sweet Tooth provides a feast for the eyes. Beneath the seductive surfaces of the art works on display, lie deeper, complex topics and social commentary, linking America’s insatiable desire for sweets with more loaded contextual meanings. “Sugar,” notes Museum director Tom Denenberg, “proves to be a creative mirror for artists. It reflects basic human desires, but also profound truths about history and culture.”

Similar to a candy shop, Sweet Tooth features an array of works of art in various mediums—from enticing paintings, sculptures, ceramics to wearable shoes—in a wide range of scale, from miniature to larger than life-size. Contemporary artists in this exhibition include: Margaret Morrison, Desire Obtain Cherish, Peter Anton, Kay Kurt, Ivan Alifan, Marion Luttenberger, Dirk Stachke, Michael Massaia, Christopher Boffoli / Big Appetites, Paul Rousso, Chris Campbell / The Shoe Bakery, Elizabeth Berdann, Emily McCracken.

Vermont artists featured in the installation, “Temptation: The Dessert Counter,” include: Wendy James, Eden Markowski, Tyler Vendituoli, Mary Zompetti, Kat Clear, Steve Hadeka, and Leslie Fry.

The subject of food—including sweets—have been of interest to artists throughout history, from prehistoric cave paintings to 18th century Dutch still life paintings to Pop artists’ depictions of mass produced treats. The theme of sugar, candy, and desserts serves as a universal topic that at once evokes nostalgia and luscious memories while also tapping into deeper levels of human appetites. Confectionaries are seductive and pleasurable, luring visitors through their decadence, smooth forms, and jewel-like colors. Sweets produce feelings of comfort and satisfaction, but they can also open doors to cravings, addiction, and serve as links to obesity and health issues. Moreover, sugar and desserts are products of policy, politics, industrialization, and mass production.

Shelburne Museum’s history is rooted in sugar. Electra Havemeyer Webb, founder of Shelburne Museum, was the daughter of America’s “Sugar King,” Henry Osborne Havemeyer. The family operated the country’s largest sugar refinery in Brooklyn, New York, and attained numerous other factories across the country, eventually securing the Sugar Trust in 1887.

Sweet Tooth: the Art of Dessert is curated by Kory Rogers.

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