Eat your art out some more!

Last fall was unique in the wealth of food-related arts events that filled the Five College area’s calendar. Here’s a quick review of some other events I attended during the semester:

1.  Mount Holyoke College Art Museum — South Hadley, MA

To kick off Wine: Rituals, Remedies and Revelry at the MHCAM, scholar Fritz Alhoff gave a talk titled “Wine & Philosophy,” in which he reminisced about his undergraduate years in Santa Barbara, somehow segueing into an informal talk about aesthetics and subjectivity as applied to wine: Can we like “bad” wine? Are tasting notes useful? Does the Parker scale reflect an ultimate ideal, or matters of personal taste?

I tried to reach a conclusion of my own at the wine tasting that followed, but I never imagined how difficult it would be to sample wine while taking good notes. I remember gleefully recognizing the difference between reds and whites, but unfortunately, that’s as far my sommelier talents were able to go that evening.

Co-curator and well-loved art history professor emeritus John Varriano also gave a terrific lecture about the exhibition, which covers the cultural history of wine from the Neolithic to the contemporary, highlighting the role and artistic depiction of wine in religion, ceremony, medicine, lore, and social contexts. If you missed it, be sure to catch it at the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester through 4/10.

2.  Williston Library Court — Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections organized an exhibition of food-related objects and photographs from the College’s history. Taking its title from Emily Dickinson’s description of seminary dining in the mid-1800s, Everything is Wholesome and Abundant was on view in the library, in addition to a beautiful virtual component. My favorite part, which isn’t included in the online version, was the collection of crockery and utensils culled from the site of the original Mount Holyoke Seminary building by an anthropology class in the ‘90s.

I had a taste of seminary cooking at the accompanying lecture given by guest curator Sara Dalmas Jonsberg’s (MHC ’60).  She spoke about the beginnings of MHC’s culinary traditions, hypothesizing that Mary Lyon’s model for seminary operations –from communal dining to shared chores to use of nascent technologies—was likely taken from the rhythm of life at nearby Hancock Shaker Village.

Refreshments at the talk included Indian pudding and slices of dense ginger bread, both served with fresh whipped cream, prepared with little variation from their period recipes. Both were hearty and a bit heavy on the molasses, but warm and satisfying—no doubt the perfect way to end a long day of learning, prayer, chores, and calisthenics. As souvenirs, we all received photocopies of the original recipes written in Mistress Lyon’s own hand.

3.  The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art — Amherst, MA

Paper, yarn, pipe cleaners, plastic fork, masking tape, and white glue, 2011.

Internationally-beloved children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle has his own museum in the Pioneer Valley. Of course, the museum collects and exhibits work by other illustrators, but this fall’s thematic attraction highlighted work from across the spectrum of Carle’s career: early woodblocks, linotypes, drawings and his tissue paper collages. With scavenger hunt in hand, my friend Sarah and I visited A Feast for the Eyes, scouring the dozens of food-related illustrations on view for items to cross off our list, much to the certain disgust of the younger visitors around us (“Do you think that’s a blueberry or a plum?”).

At least we had the courtesy (cowardice?) to take part in the crafting activity after most of the kids had left. I brought mine home and it went straight on the fridge! Ah, refrigerator magnets, EGOTs for the younger set.

4.  Smith College Museum of Art — Northampton, MA

Across the Connecticut River, the food theme took form in a sweeter incarnation. Imagine Titian and Rubens putting aside their differences and taking up baking, and you might have an idea of the exhibit of Emily Eveleth’s oil paintings at the Smith College Museum of Art last year. Nipples and navels abounded in these wall-sized paintings of fleshy jelly donuts, some with halos emanating from their back-lit glaze, others standing solo or in clusters, alternately oozing and crumbling. On one wall, “Snake Eyes” seemed to capture two powdered donuts caught in the act, stacked on each other in harsh flashbulb lighting styled after the work of photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig. I can only image the profits brought in by Eveleth’s work to the Dunkin’ Donuts around the block…luscious, indeed.

Also on view at SCMA was Sugar, three installations by Cuban artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons tackling the complicated relationship between sugar production, slavery, Cuban history and the artist’s own identity.

5.  Brattleboro Museum — Brattleboro, VT

Just an hour’s drive outside the Valley, amongst the other playful exhibits at the Brattleboro Museum is a fun treat for contemporary art aficionados. Licked, Sucked, Stacked, Stuck by Nicole Root and Paul Shore showcases miniature versions of famous sculptures and installations produced in exquisite detail—all made of inexpensive candy and photographed to mimic the original work. View the artists’ photos from the exhibit here.



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