June 13, 2008
My 101 Conceptual Art Ideas project has drawn protests suggesting that “it is the fartherest(sic) thing from being a true artist” and furthermore that “leaving food at different places all over Washington, D.C.” is not art. Time constraints will not permit me a precise examination of exactly what being a “true artist” entails, but I am inclined to consider both the nature of “street” or “guerrilla” artworks and the usage of food in art. My consideration of these topics has at least as much to do with educating critics of my “diary” project (as well as readers of this site) as it does to briefly engage the possibilities for postconceptual work. Understanding that one’s opinions on art, particularly concerning conceptual “street” art, may be partly based on subjective points of view, I endeavor as always to expand the public’s grasp of difficult work through their education about contemporary art through theory and art historical precedence.
First, why food?
Food has played an important role in quite a few artworks as artists explored food not just as subjects for “representation” but as material worthy of use in expression. Artworks made by Daniel Spoerri in the 1960’s consist of remains of meals attached to a support which was then hung horizontally as his “picture-trap.”(1) Spoerri later opened a gallery called “Eat Art” in Dusseldorf where he engaged the “status” of art as a consumptive item as well as questioning the nature of how art attempts the preservation of “a moment of life,” a goal that Spoerri emphatically rejects as he “rips it away from the flow of existence, to make it into a useless, lifeless object.”(2)
We might also enumerate Joseph Beuys (fat, cheese and chocolate), Dieter Roth (chocolate sculpture, gorgonzola paintings and “sausages” made with shredded newspapers and novels mixed with fat), Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thai cuisine as “art”) and Janine Antoni (self-portrait busts of gnawed chocolate) as artists who incorporate food as material for their art objects.(3)
Food as art has a rich historic presence in art history and continues unabated. Be that as it may, my use of food in 101 Conceptual Art Ideas differs somewhat. My approach to the “site” where art occurs is clearly brought to bear through my placement of food “objects” in the public setting. Potentially more intellectually rigorous than the choice of food as art material is the idea that this art “occurs” outside of the existing institutionalized sites of validation, i.e., museums, galleries, art schools. Truly, the guerrilla tendencies of movements like Fluxus, conceptual art and Arte Povera not only predict this investigation by later artists but they have created a new “site” for validation – the discourse about art itself.
Which is a key component of my “diary” project, the “site” of art defined through an intervention into the public sphere; again a “tradition” rife among modernists and conceptualists alike. For example, Daniel Buren’s vertical striped posters placed guerrilla-style on the streets and walls of Paris, or any number of time-based “actions” by artists like Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry or Allan Kaprow.
But does the placement of objects in a city street guarantee its apprehension as “art?” This the sort of thorny issue that returns us to the definition of art itself, which is precisely why the aforementioned artists (and many others, including Duchamp, Klein, Piper, Burden, Acconci, etc.) began to push the envelope regarding art’s “definition.” Street art also critiques the very nature of art as a commodity by questioning the “exchange” value of the art object, as many of these “artworks” were dematerialized through theory (Klein’s “invisible pictorial sensibility”), are subsumed within the artists (“body works”), or became evaporated temporally or spatially (Barry’s gas works, Weiner’s flare residue). Such actions and artists presaged coming suspicions about institutional validation as being complicit with the marketing impulse of the art world. However, chiefly these works enable us to find new “meanings” and new “definitions” for art by challenging us, provoking us and, yes, even shocking us into a renewed sense of perception.
Ralph Rugoff’s critique of Maria Nordman yields yet another reading of street art. Nordman works in urban sites and her use of street ambiance including sound, sunlight and the “chance presence of local pedestrians” creates what Rugoff calls “accidental encounters.”(4) Besides the idea that “accidental encounters” with artful objects on city streets make art accessible to viewers who normally never set foot in an art gallery, street art is much more:
“Projects like Nordman’s represent the culmination of a century-long concern with dissolving the boundaries between the work of art and its larger environment - a vein of interest that essentially reverses the strategy of collage: rather than incorporating worldly fragments, the artwork is incorporated into its surrounding milieu, embracing a dissolution of identity that, once again, recalls the mechanisms of the Sublime.”(5)
Which is why I see my “spiral jelly” and “corner pie” as art. I ought to mention that there are at the minimum at least two other subtexts to the idea behind a “sublime pie.” But that would spoil the “art” part which has to do with your discovery of the concept. I will tell you that only one food work has been actualized so far. But as Weiner and Lewitt both said, the idea need not be made to be “art.”
Image: Conceptual Art Idea #8 (Corner Pie); lemon meringue pie (destroyed); placed at 17th & G Street, Washington, D.C.; 4/23/08; © Copyright 2008 by Mark Cameron Boyd.
1. Galloway, David. “Out of the frying pan, into the galleries,” International Herald Tribune, Feb. 14, 2004.
2. Hatch, John. “On the Various Trappings of Daniel Spoerri,” ArtMargins.com, Mar. 28, 2003.
3. See also this forum on The Egullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters.
4. Rugoff, Ralph. “Touched By Your Presence,” Frieze Magazine, Issue 50, January-February 2000.
5. Op. cit.