Saturday, December 12, 2009

IT'S A WRAP! BOTTLE IT UP! BOX IT UP! Food Containers Become Art

Above: El Anatsui and one of his draped cloths constructed from discarded twist-off bottle caps. Born in 1944, he is a native of the Ewe-speaking part of Ghana and is Africa's most renown contemporary sculptor. His work appears at the British Museum, London, and the National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC. His work continues the Dadist fondness for "found art" as an artistic medium, begun in early 20th century Europe.

Commercial Packages and Bottles as Models for Creativity
Artists are drawn to commercial packaging because they represent the ultimate in visual manipulation. They lure us into thinking that they contain products that are convenient, fresh, safe, wholesome, and relatively inexpensive.

We all know, however, that only some are recyclable and that they present health problems for users, especially children.

Does this compel artists to create images that embody imagnative criticism or, at best, cynicism about the American corporate system?

David Gilhooly (b. Auburn, CA, 1943) One Pound Sampler, 1990
. Gilhooly studied at UC Davis with another ceramicist, Robert Arneson. One of many art pieces about food, this sculptural facsimile of a box of candy places Gilhooly in the movement called "Funk Art," a reaction against Abstract Expressionism.
The "Sampler" was a popular Mothers' Day gift n the 1940-50s

Tom Sachs (b.Brooklyn, NY, 1966),

Land O Lakes Butter, 2003 (Plywood 48 x 96") Sachs has created a wide variety of commercial icons as sculptural art, drawing on our complex corporate eco system.

Sachs, Nutsy MacDonalds' 2003

Above: Paul McCarthy (b. 1945, Salt Lake City) Kitchen Set, 2003 (sculpture/installation)
Wood pieces, flooring, found objects, resin casts

Cereal Killers:

Every country has its cereals: Scottish porridge or "oatmeal," Russian Buckwheat groatsss, called "kashas," Irish oatmal, nutty and coarse (best with butter milk), and American Farina.

Social and Political Statements:

Renee Cox Liberation of Lady J, 1998 [cibochrome photo]
In your face art with African American studs and gorgeous lady against the sterotype packaging of the past and present: Anunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's Brown Rice.
Cox's photo, Yo Moama's Last Supper was an eyebrow -raiser.

Cream of Wheat came out in 1917, lead by the image of "Rastus" (Mr. Frank L. White)Below: Robert Gober (Wallingford, CON, 1954) Untitled (Farina box),1993
Sculpture/installation, 6' 8" high.

Many critics have commented on this image. Many claim that they see an innocence, an American icon, a representative of a wholesome America. I disagree.
I find the boy's face and especially his gaze as sickly, if not demonic. The teeth are too white and too large. The lips too red. Whatever the nutritional value of Farina, the message here is about deceit.

Tom Friedman. Cheerios Box, 2004 [Stephen Friedman Gallery, London] An elongated cereal box , assembled from four separate Cheerios boxes cut into tiny pieces and painstakingly reconfigured into one giant box, five feet tall.

Fresh Food in Plastic Frames:

Pol Rein (b. Groningen Germany, 1949) Broccoli in Plastic, 2004

Green Note: PVC (used in drainage pipes and window sashes), also known as polyvinyl chloride, is used in cling wraps, some plastic squeeze bottles, and many household containers. It is associated with liver cancer and linked to negative effects on the kidney, spleen bone formation and body weight. And it is difficult to recycle [See for information about good and bad plastic containers].

Condiment Containers:
William Eggleston, Hot Sauce

Jonathan Seliger (b.NYC 1955) Slices, Pizza Box, 2006; Proscuitto and Arugala,, 2007
Seliger has specialized in ultra-realistic painted images of containers - mainly food (pizza) and clothing (Vuitton and Prada) from anexhibit, "Born to Shop". He has a BFA from SUNY Binghamton, NY.

Peter Seltzer, Extra Extra Virgin
Seltzer is a master pastellist and is a member of the Hudson Valley Art Association. He is represented by the iogallery in Cornwall Bridge, CT.

Above: Andy Warhol soup can image on bag

Roy Lichtenstein Bread in Bag, 1961

Carl Liebowitz (born Cary Lebowirz, NYC, 1963 (aka "Candyass") No More Depressing Offspring, 2000

Scrawled on a common styrofoam coffee cup, is a queer man's wry answer to his parents' world and the straight world's expectations. His self-loathing and self-deprecating satire joins with subtle critique of the pretentious commercial art world.

Green Note:
Styrofoam (polystyrine) is used in various drink containers (such as disposable coffee cups) and the heavier vessels for detergents, etc. It is difficult to recycle. It is toxic to the brain and nervous system, and affects human blood cells

Robert Zandvliet (born Terban, Holland, 1970) Untitled (fast-food container), 1996.Zandvliet has undertaken all three genres of painting: landscape (for which he is best known), portraits and still life. Untitled, above, is among the latter group and often on the border line between abstraction and figuration. In the 1990's he was interested in every-day objects, such as this styrafoam food container which we all know as a perfect fit for a burger. This common, commercially produced container called a "clam shell" is interpreted and created as fine art.

Below: Rachel Perry Welty, Takeout, 2006

Ben Vautier (b. Naples, Italy 1935) Fluxus Mystery Food (unopened tin can of the artist's shit) 1967.

Like Al Hansen (above), Vautier was a leader in FLUXUS and public performance art
. Using old world wood cut style, he makes a connection with the art establishment's self-importance: an artist can make people eager to buy and own even the artist's shit..

Sweet Wrappers:

Mel Ramos (b. Sacramento, 1935) Candy, 1981 (Lithograph)

ItalicRay Kleinline, Candy Bar, 2003

Below: Andy Warhol, Campbell's onion-mushroom soup

Fruit Box Labels and Their Regional Origins:
As Collectors' Items

Best Strike Apples, Pajaro Valley, Watsonville, California
Today this region is best known for its strawberries and artichokes.

A Canadian Apple Orchard in Vernon, British Columbia


Chris Jordan (b. 1963,Seattle, WASH) Northwest photographer and environmentalist) photographs recycled materials as composite art objects.
Besides food containers, he has documented mounds of discarded cellphones, batteries, and other examples of America's throw-away culture.

Wrappers and Landscape:

Adams, California Fruit Gum, 1920 (Ansel Adams?)

Tom Friedman (b. St Louis, MO, 1965) Untitled (Tootsie Roll wrapper), 2004 [from the exhibit, "Materiality," NYC July 2006]. Friedman's sense of humor leads him to food wrappers and boxes He is fondly known for his distortions and re-assembly of cereal boxes in the name of art sculpture.
The Iconic Beverage:

The Coca Cola bottle (and its traditional curvey shape) is the most recogized beverage contaner in the world. Images of Coke bottles appear in more contemporary art constructions than any ofitsd competitors [Of course, soda cans are generic in shape andonly identifiable by label. Pepsi and 7-Up are good examples [See Claes Oldenberg's 7Up and Derek Bosier's Pepsi image, below.

Cilido Meireles (b. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 1948) Coca Cola Project, 1970. Conceptual Art and installations are expressions of resistance to political oppression under a military regime in Brazil. Under a well-organized plan, images and messages were painted on empty coke bottles which, in turn, were distributed across the country as part of the re-cycling program.

Following the military coup in 1964, Meireles became involved in political art. In 1970 he developed a political art project which aimed to reach a wide audience while avoiding censorshipInsertions Into Ideological Circuits. This was achieved by printing images and messages onto various items that were already widely circulated and which had value discouraging them being destroyed, such as banknotes and Coca-Cola bottles (which were recycled by way of a deposit scheme).

Cinematic Cokes:
Ever since its introduction to foreign lands during World War II, Coke bottles [and similar food/beverage containers] have been sold world-wide, though the cultural understanding of the item's use and meanings do not necessarily carry over to another culture.

The hilarious 1980 film, "The Gods Must Be Crazy,"written and directed by Jamie Uys, is a strong case in point.

The plot:
An empty coke bottle is tossed from a light plane over African Bushman country.
It lands on a man's head. He does not recognize it and assumes that it was dropped from the sky. Clearly, the gods must be crazy.

The confusion that ensues makes the comedy, and the film concludes with Xi, the main character, throwing the strange and trouble-causing item back to the gods from what he considers the edge of the earth.

Below: Robert Rauschenberg (b. Miltron Ernst Rauschenberg, Port Arthur, TX, 1925-2008) Coca Cola Plan. 1968 [installation].

Al Hansen (Queens NY, 1927-1995) Coca Cola Venus; Hershey Venus, 1960-88
Early FLUXUS artist, involved with Performace Art and happenings. Wrote
The Shooting of Andy Warhol [La Negresse, 1984]. In the 1980s he moved to Cologne, Germany, where he established an art school, Ultimate Akademie. He died there in 1995.

Al Hansen, 1927-1995

Al Hansen, Hershey Venus, 1988

Clair Graham, Bottle Cap sculpture

Eugene Ricards (b. 1944) Wonder Bread, Dorchester, Massachusetts 1977-97

Willard B. Moore (b. Poughkeepsie, NY,1931) "Wonder Pep," 2009
Framed assemblage of parts of commercial packaging, Wonder Bread and Pepsi Cola Carton. See also, Ritzy Oreo, 2009

Early Food Containers:
Picnic Box,
Tiered and Lacquered wood, Japan, Edo Period Late 17th century CE (1603-1867).
The box has four separate compartments for rice, fish, vegetables and pickles. The box is decorated with black lacquer with gold hiramakie and shell inlay. In places silver powder has been mixed with the gold to give a paler effect. Again, for variety some of the poppy petals have been polished revealing the gold flakes suspended below the surface of the lacquer, to give the nashiji effect [L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in The British Museum Press, London, 1990)]. Ethnographic Arts and Other Traditional Arts:

A Chinese pork-filled dumpling (Chiong) with sticky rice wrapped and tied in banana leaves, a traditional holiday gift among Southeast Asian and Chinese people. Families make these packages at home, wrapping it by hand, an art in itself. This is an excellent example of ethnographic or folk art.
Old World Predecessors:

An old peddler sells pastry on the streets of Rome, circa 1630. He uses a hand-made basket as a container for his wares. [Galleria Nazionale, Italy]

Pieter Van Laer (Haarlem, Holland, 1592/95-1642) Kakan Saljare [Cake Seller], ca 1630. Actually the peddler is selling bread rings, similar to a pretzel, called Ciambella. He was nicknamed "Il Bamboccio" (puppet) by Italians in Rome because he was deformed or because he chose to paint common life. Though he was a recognized artist and a genre painter, doing depictions of common street scenes, Laer still gave his figures dignity and color, but his use of shadow shows influence from Caravaggio.

This well known painting becomes, in part, a documentation of the basket-making traditions of seventeenth century Europe. Baskets have long served as handy, inexpensive containers, though today they are often collector's items [See Willard B. Moore, "Folklore Research and Museums," in Richard M. Dorson, ed.
Handbook of AmericanFolklore, Indiana University Press, 1983, 402]

How Small or Large Must a Food Container Be?

Small (NOTE: This is not a diaphragm):

Gabriel Orozco (b. Jalapa, Vera Cruz,Mexico, 1962) This is one out of the four yogurt tops, which Orozco he nailed to a wall, the only item in an exhibit 19

For commentary on LARGE food containers, see the blog posting for December 28, 2009.