Bread, pastrami and cocktails: Museum shows focus on food

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Bread, pastrami and cocktails: Museum shows focus on food
A photo provided by Deann Orr shows Malia Jensen’s “Butterscape,” 2008, in “The Art of Food” exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, through Dec 3. (Deann Orr via The New York Times) .

by Jane L. Levere

NEW YORK, NY.- Food — a subject of universal appeal — is a big deal in many cities and especially in New York. There are delis, lots of them, and the city has a long history with the oyster.

“Food in New York: Bigger Than the Plate” is among the many food-related exhibitions on display around the country, while others — on food-related artwork from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the rise of Jewish delicatessens across the United States — are traveling to various institutions.

The New York show, which opened last month at the Museum of the City of New York and is on display through Sept. 30, 2023, was inspired by a 2019 exhibition with a similar name at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that “explored current experiments at every stage of the food system, from compost to table.”

Not surprisingly, the exhibition is New York-centric, adapted, the museum says, “to focus on eating and food systems in the Big Apple … anchored around issues of sustainability and resiliency, labor justice and equitable access to food.”

It looks at oysters gathered by the Lenape people before the arrival of the Dutch, to the ways food is sold in New York, ranging from street sellers and bodegas to the city’s 23,000 restaurants. It also looks at the vulnerabilities of the food system.

In addition, it features works by more than 20 contemporary artists and designers who use “their crafts to imagine solutions to key global and local food-related challenges,” the museum said. Among these is a “Biosphere” by Mary Mattingly, which the museum calls “a structural ecosystem (that grows) native plants in saltwater”; photos by Maximo Colon that depict “nourishers” in the nearby Harlem and East Harlem neighborhoods; and a portable beehive by Jan Mun.

Monxo Lopez, associate curator of the museum and co-curator of the exhibition with Fabio Parasecoli, a professor of food studies in the nutrition and food studies department of New York University, describes the exhibition as “half art show, half historical review,” adding that its focus “is really about our planet’s desperation for a way through some of these formidable challenges, and we need the ideas of artists and designers to look for out-of-the-box solutions.”

“Food for Thought,” an exhibition from the Baltimore Museum of Industry, features photos by J.M. Giordano of food and nutrition service workers at the Baltimore City Public Schools, who prepared and distributed more than 88,000 meals daily during the 2021-22 school year, and interviews with these workers by a local radio producer, Aaron Henkin. It is on display in the lobby of the headquarters of the Baltimore public schools through June 2023 as well as online; a larger exhibition on the workers will open at the museum in January 2023.

Beth Maloney, director of interpretation at the museum and a member of the exhibition’s curatorial team, said the museum was “delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on the workers who cared for Baltimore’s students and their families throughout the pandemic. In some instances, these were the only meals families received.”

Food insecurity is a problem in Baltimore, she added, noting that 23.5% of Baltimore residents and 28.3% of Baltimore children live in areas where access to fresh food is limited.

A more fanciful food exhibition is the digital “Kneaded: L.A. Bread Stories,” from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which is being updated through November and then available indefinitely.

This features bread makers of more than 20 nationalities who operate out of mini-malls, pop-up restaurants, food trucks and corner bakeries. According to the museum, “bread makers in LA lovingly create bread for their communities, but, more importantly, many of them recognize that the bread goes beyond nutrition — it builds community. Its universal presence around the world and consumption by people of all varying backgrounds creates a universal language. In the most trying of times, bread brings people together.”

The exhibition, “The Art of Food,” is from the collection of Portland, Oregon-based Jordan D. Schnitzer and has more than 100 food-related works by more than 30 artists, including Andy Warhol, Lorna Simpson, Enrique Chagoya and Hung Liu. It originated last fall at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.

“Food is complex,” said Olivia Miller, interim director and curator of exhibitions at the Arizona museum, who put together the exhibition, “not only as physical necessity, but it is also integral to our communities, relationships, cultures and memories. It’s a commodity, it’s a livelihood and it has ethical implications.

“Sometimes people don’t fully think about the many different ways it can be considered,” she added.

The exhibition is on display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University in Oregon and will travel to the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center in Oklahoma City in February.

“‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli,” originated earlier this year at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It will travel to the New-York Historical Society in November, where it will be expanded to include photos of local delis, deli owners’ items and costumes from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The exhibition will travel to the Holocaust Museum in Houston in May 2023 and later go to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.

Looking ahead, in February the Bard Graduate Center in New York will offer “Staging the Table in Europe 1500-1800,” exploring the history of dining customs and culture in Italy, Germany, France, England and the Netherlands.

Food and museum enthusiasts can even combine their passions at home.

Earlier this month, Rizzoli published “Cocktails with a Curator,” a collection of essays based on the Frick Collection’s wildly popular YouTube series born in the first year of the pandemic and viewed by almost 2 million people worldwide.

In each of the 65 episodes, a Frick curator offers insights on a work of art in the museum’s collection — a painting, sculpture or decorative art — as well as a related cocktail.

For example, in her final episode of the series, curator Aimee Ng discusses Joshua Reynolds’ “Selina, Lady Skipwith” and offers the recipe for the Asparagus Fizz, which, the Frick says, “was inspired by an 1828 entry in Selina’s journals in which she notes that she has tasted asparagus for the first time.”

Ng; Xavier F. Salomon, deputy director and chief curator of the Frick; and Giulio Dalvit, assistant curator of sculpture at the Frick, are the authors of the book, which also features the cocktails’ recipes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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