There is a deep connection between food and creativity that is ripe to be explored in art. “Art is inspired by our everyday lives, and food is a huge part of that,” said Anna Kienberger, education and communications coordinator at Portland’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. The Museum has just unveiled its current Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation exhibit titled The art of food.
Free-to-the-public exhibition runs on campus until December 3in the relatively new PSU Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
“We are still a young museum, which only opened in 2019, and quite soon after we opened, we were immediately closed [due to COVID-19]”, said Kienberger. “So last year we finally completed a full year of opening on campus.”
The art of food was curated by the University of Arizona from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation. Kienberger explained that the exhibit’s origins stem from a chance visit to the museum by Jordan Schnitzer himself. “Jordan Schnitzer was visiting the University of Arizona Museum of Art, and while there he got in touch with exhibition curator Olivia Miller, who approached him about doing an exhibition about food,” Kienberger said. “Food is a huge field, and all of these artworks have touched on so many different meanings beyond just its bodily nourishment and fuel. And so that was the origin of the exhibition itself.
The exhibition, curated by Olivia Miller, was divided into seven sections. “These different sections are community, dissociation, food for thought, still life, control, elixirs and libations, and eye candy,” Kienberger said. “And all of this delves into the various metaphors and meanings, and associations that come with food.”
These seven sections focus on three general themes: community, control and sustainability.
“What’s so amazing to see in this exhibit is how all of these artists have taken different facets of food and explored them,” Kienberger said. “[The art] goes further than its purpose as bodily fuel and goes deeper into the complexities it contains as something that also brings community, that recalls memory through taste. But also how it is used as a tool of control and oppression and its role in our climate of consumption.
For example, a piece that explores food as a way to engage in community is called Grocery by Red Grooms, who created a 3D lithograph. “[In this piece] you see this bustling grocery store of diverse people in the community together,” Kienberger said. “It really shows this lively community and just the different people that come together in the dining spaces.”
This piece has become somewhat reflexive, given that COVID-19 has prevented us from engaging in these spaces in the same way. “[It] is a rarity to be in a space that is so full of food, or at least to be comfortable in a space that is full of food,” Kienberger said.
Community is not only represented in the typical sense, but also in the community that we find in the family. For example, Hung Liu’s piece titled Women’s work: Millstone depicts “three generations of women working in a millstone to turn whole grains into flour or flower”.
“This piece exemplifies the important role that women’s labor has played in Chinese culture, really highlighting the physical toughness that comes from obtaining food,” Kienberger said. “But what’s so beautiful about this piece too is that you also see three generations of women, three generations in a family, and you also see tradition and community that way.”
Several artists in the exhibition also focused on the element of sustainability, including one of the most recognizable names in this exhibition: Andy Warhol.
“Andy Warhol’s plays really touch on the consumption of food and the industrialization of food,” Kienberger said. “The biggest piece that stands out when you first view the exhibition through the window is its silkscreen print of Cow. In this piece, the repetition he has of these cows really touches on slaughterhouses and the alignment of animals.
Artists Roy Lichtenstein and Alex Katz have also used cow and bull imagery to draw attention to “the consumer’s dissociation from the meat and tightly packaged food found in the grocery store and how which we have this level of dissociation,” according to Kienberger. .
Artist Neal Ambrose-Smith also focuses on sustainability, as his art explores the effects of Suncor mining in Alberta, Canada on Indigenous communities. However, his art also has a deeper message of control. “[His piece] concentrates [on] how controlling access to land and food is one of the systemic ways in which colonialism impacts diverse food communities,” said Kienberger. “In his article, he focuses on the destruction of traditional ways of life in many First Nations communities.”
Lorna Simpson focused on another very important element of control in her work. “[Her] piece really focuses on the slave labor that black women have historically done throughout American history and the history of many other countries,” Kienberger said. “Also, how black women were consumed in our culture, making this direct reference of food pathways to consuming people in certain ways…There is also this lingering ideological memory of enslaved cooks found on grocery store shelves across cans of Aunt Jemima’s Mix or also Uncle Ben’s Rice as a way to authenticate these products.
Featured artists show how food is a common thread in our lives and communities – a resource that brings people together, a resource that is abused and overused, and a method of oppression and control.
We can see the latter in our own community at PSU, as studies conducted by the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative found that 48% of students surveyed in fall 2019 were food insecure, and that number had increased during the pandemic, where 55% of students surveyed were food insecure.
While food is a necessity, for many, including those in our community, access to food has unfortunately become a luxury. That’s why it’s essential to have on-campus resources like the PSU Food Pantry.
However, as past Forefront of food press article pointed out, “Underutilization is a constant problem with the pantry, where needs don’t match actual usage.” Sources pointed out that for many reasons, from location to lack of visibility, the Food Pantry serves only about 5% of students, which differs significantly from the recognized need for these services.
To help combat this, the Museum has partnered with the Pantry to help raise awareness and fund the Pantry. This allows the Museum to not only present works that visualize and acknowledge the food used to control and oppress, but also to be active in changing these power dynamics.
“Our main mission as a museum is to be a resource for the campus and to make these connections between different resources,” Kienberger said. “With this exhibition, The art of food, we thought it would be a great opportunity to partner with the PSU Food Pantry… It is such an important and needed resource, especially with our large student body and the realities many face of food insecurity. We really wanted to use our position to help amplify this resource further because I know it’s a huge institution too. Sometimes resources get lost.
The Museum also engages and encourages community growth in many other important ways. An upcoming example is the Museum’s Welcome to Campus event, a speak with Growing Gardens on Thursday, September 29 at 5 p.m.. According to the event description, “This grassroots organization uses the experience of growing foods in schools, backyards, and correctional facilities to cultivate healthy and equitable communities.”
Several events like this provide the community with an opportunity to engage in proactive solutions to how food serves as a tool to oppress and control people. “We have lots of tours of exhibits open to the public, we have a story hour and art activity for families as well as an art workshop that takes place in November for UPS students and adults” , said Kienberger. “We really hope to serve the community with our museum.”
If readers make it to the exhibition or related events, Kienberger said she hopes “it will challenge them in some ways, especially our review section. I hope it continues to spark the interest to observe more, sometimes the most elementary things of our daily life, by deepening its objectives and the way in which they affect us in multiple domains.