Edible? at BMoCA

Perhaps not so palatable…

Viviane Le Courtois is a French artist who has resided in the Denver area for the last two decades.  Her twenty-two year retrospective at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, titled Edible?, pulled together many different pieces that somehow used food as the media.  The retrospective was displayed with a newer interactive piece titled Garden of Earthy Delights, which featured herbs that could be crushed to make a tea.  Once tea-drinker “viewers” were done with their tea, they were invited to smash their ceramic teacup against a wall and let the debris fall into the ever-increasing pile of shards.

The first piece that stood out to me in the room where the retrospective was held was Venus of Consumption, a lumpy crocheted rendition of an obese woman reclining in the modest Venus pose favored by Titian and other Renaissance artists.  Due to its larger than life size and position in the middle of the room, this statue seemed to be a congregation area.  The rolls of fat on the body are made more grotesque by the uneven texture of the crocheted (and lacquered) form.  The pose of the figure sexualizes the lumpy and unhealthy woman in a way that viewers cannot look away from the bloated, cartoonish sculpture.  Without the context of the food theme, I would not have seen the implications of such a work, but the excess of the junk food art gives a firm message about overindulgence.

Upon turning around from the Venus sculpture, viewers are met by the work Pickles, which features over two hundred jars of pickled objects.  Some of the jars contain real pickled food, while others contain plastic play food, ceramic works, or even novelty gifts such as fake spiders.  The inclusion of such non-food items increases the level of repulsion, especially when the pickling process seems to suggest that these things are to be eaten.  Le Courtois’ work begs to ask about the difference is between junk food and non-food items.  While I do not know if this was an intentional effect, I found it particularly disgusting that more than a quarter of the jars contained botulism and other jars were corroding.  If Le Courtois meant to insinuate some sort of meaning with the mold, it was lost on me while I considered her sloppy canning job.  I think this work would perhaps be more effective if it was neatly constructed and forced viewers to more closely examine the contents before they decide to look away.

The works that I found to be the most interesting were the Cellules series.  What at first looked like beautiful abstract black and white monoprints are actually homemade kombucha mushrooms that have been fermented into tea and pressed onto paper.  The effect is a gorgeous pattern reminiscent of cells under a microscope.  The organic nature of the cells (which are the large mushrooms placed onto paper as a sort of stamp) makes each of these prints completely one of a kind.  Equally surprising is the use of kombucha as ink—the chemical effect of kombucha on paper gives the appearance of an ink wash, and as far as I could tell, did not retain the smell of fermented mushrooms.  If I weren’t a poor college student, I would have bought one of the prints.

Unfortunately the delight of the kombucha work was overshadowed by the hydroponic plant project, Garden of Earthy Delights, in the main room.  The UV lights cast a strange glow over the entire room, and the space was filled with plastic pots growing plants.  In between these rows were dirty cushions upon which people could sit down to drink their “tea” made from freshly cut herbs.  I’m not much of a tea person to begin with, but this tea was more like warm infused water than anything, and I found myself wanting to find a place to dispose of said infused water, instead of philosophizing and reclining on cushions.  To be perfectly honest, this piece distracted from the rest of the work as it seemed more akin to a college student’s growing operation than a piece of artwork.

Overall, I think the artist’s show was successful at BMoCA.  I mean to say that it was successful in the specific locale of Boulder because of this community’s crazed obsession with health food. If this collection of artwork was displayed anywhere else, it would lose its resonance entirely.  Many of the works felt contrived to me, and I left feeling as if I’d read a guilt-inducing article about Americans and obesity.  While obesity in America is clearly a growing problem (pun intended), I felt like this artist’s work was somewhat sloppy and that perhaps the preachy messages are better left to documentarians like Michael Moore.

The one redeeming factor for me was the kombucha mushroom prints, which were presented in a much cleaner manner than the rest of the work.  By separating this art from its garage or cellar origins, the work appeared fresh and less like a science experiment.  From my perspective, Edible? Is way past its expiration date at BMoCA.

3 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed your paper and think that you are a great writer. I also went to this exhibit and had similar feelings about it as you. I really liked when you said “he pose of the figure sexualizes the lumpy and unhealthy woman in a way that viewers cannot look away from the bloated, cartoonish sculpture. Without the context of the food theme, I would not have seen the implications of such a work, but the excess of the junk food art gives a firm message about overindulgence.” I had not thought of this at first, but it is true that they both really connect to each other and create a similar identification with food and eating. Without them both, the meaning is not as strong or clear.

    • Thanks! I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of people who disagree, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who was underwhelmed. The installation upstairs was interesting though.

  2. I enjoyed how you had a much different perspective then i did! It made me see a different side of her art. You had a very catchy beginning which led me to continue reading your paper. Your whit throughout t all shows a background of experienced writing to me. Great job!

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