Live to Eat: Food as Paradox at Galerie Myrtis

Jesse Shuman visits Consumption: Food as Paradox at Galerie Myrtis

Laid out like a feast in the pristine interior of a Baltimore row house, a new exhibition seeks to feature a diverse set of artists and explore how we eat to live and live to eat. Here, dualities in the form of paradox loom, but rarely take hold.

Wishing to explore the inextricable link between food and social, economic, and political aspects of life across an array of media, Gallerie Myrtis director Aden Weisel’s Consumption: Food as Paradox questions how necessity manifests itself in contemporary culture. The works – varied in scale and style, created by a cohort of thirteen different artists – appear as disparate interpretations stemming from the artists’ own distinct backgrounds, trainings, and styles. The works, most of them paintings – in which paint, collage, porcelain, and print are employed – emphasize the rather abject connotations of food in the experiences of their masterminds: food becomes sacrament, blasphemy, the consumable object of femininity, or an economic and racial shackle.

Among the thirteen artists that are featured, three main areas of focus were clear: race, religion, and gender. Watermelon and chicken become conspicuously racial tropes in the works of Arvie Smith, who explores the social perceptions of black consumption and historical crafting of diets. African-American artists Stephen Towns and Eric Telfort utilize motifs taken from medieval altarpieces to associate black empowerment with divine inspiration; here, respectively, wine is poured over berries to “blacken the berries,” while a Jesus-like Telfort holds up a “cracker” Eucharist. Michael Adelberg’s depictions of Shabbat in the style of the Old Masters reflect the ritual and doctrinal implication of food in Judaism. The striking works Anna U Davis, whose work is at once feral and ghastly, beautiful and intricate, greets the viewer as much as startling him/her. Her take on Manet’s Dejeuner, entitled Luncheon on the Gun, is an explicit and violent critique on the male consumption of female bodies within the oeuvre of art history. Others remained divorced from more pertinent questions, like Christi Harris’ hyper-realistic depictions of frosting, which I saw as obsequious interpretations of obesity. And while this concept of overindulgence was partially addressed, the issues stemming from the absence of food – hunger, even anorexia and bulimia – were entirely apart from the exhibition’s intent.

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Host to a plethora of artists, the exhibition mirrors the frivolous intake of our modern era: information, art, and food are wasted and consumed rapidly while hunger and obesity exist simultaneously and paradoxically. With thirteen artists each with an individualized agenda, Galerie Myrtis’ latest show introduces its patrons to an unconventional, if not similar, view of consumption in which the act of viewing art can be extrapolated into the consumption of art as if it were nutritious. Just as food transcends national, cultural, and racial boundaries, so too do these works transcend singular expression.

Despite reaching far into the back of the row house at 2224 N. Charles Street, the exhibition feels more like the tip of an iceberg – half-answered questions loom long after leaving. These manifesting questions of food as causing ulterior aspects of society rarely come together in a statement of paradox. Paradox – the existence of one and its other, conflicting forces in one entity – is seemingly ignored. Instead, these works remain segmented, their questions separated. The conversation it seeks to provoke about the communal nature of food as necessity becomes fragmented despite efforts to juxtapose dissimilar works. The title of the exhibition suggests the use of food as some common ground of human experience – and while this remains true in the sense that these artists have interpreted food’s role differently, it lacks the connective tissue that ties all these human experiences together through the spiritual, physiological, and communal nature of food.

This feeling of disconnect was addressed by Telfort, who dominated the artists’ talk. Eloquently, Telfort railed against the use of food as a social tool, subjugating the poor and strengthening the rich and white. Here, the potential and intent of the exhibit became clear: how food is used as an instrument – not only in terms of expression, but as a greater entity that controls us all.

Consumption: Food as Paradox at Galerie Myrtis will close April 3rd, 2016.

Jesse Shuman is a Baltimore-based writer, originally from New York.

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