BMoCA Review – Viviane LeCourtois

Jackson Ellis

ARTH 3539

Exhibition Review: Viviane Le Courtois’ Edible?

            Viviane Le Courtois’ exhibition, Edible? presented  a contemporary exploration of mediums that are as old as human civilization and impact every single person on the globe. This medium is of course, food. A series of prints, sculptures, collections and installation, the exhibition spanned over 20 years of work of this French-born, Denver-based artist. Using post-modern concepts of material and social involvement, she transformed the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art into a space of social contemplation and interaction through the shared experience of consumption. Working with themes of mass culture consumerism and the industrial production required to sustain it, I found myself both repulsed and strangely hungry throughout the exhibition.

Having never seen the inside of the BMoCA, I was surprised at how efficient the historic building was for presenting any number of artworks, as there was ample room for the installation Garden of Earthly Delights to fill the entire front wing of the gallery. Despite my initial curiosity towards the low-hanging grow lights and greenery, the receptionist advised me to begin my visit in the back, beginning with work from the past 20 years of Le Courtois’ studio practice. A pseudo-retrospective, Edible? contained a wide range of mediums that demonstrated a personal evolution of the artist, culminating in the installation I had walked past initially. The first work that really caught my attention was Chewed Licorice Sticks (1990) with its simple display of deformed roots that appeared as a coded message. Presented in a vertical fashion, my first thought upon seeing the work was that it spelled something out, as the slight bend and frayed ends of the natural licorice sticks mimicked the typography of English letters. Almost abstract in their form, the sticks were physical evidence of the repetitive motions involved with consumption, becoming in essence “action sculptures,” akin to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings. If Chewed Licorice Sticks had me thinking about the process of consumption, Forages (1992) blatantly showed me. A short film of the artist eating various foods, it reinforced the importance of process in Le Courtois’ work, demonstrating that even the act of eating can be an artistic endeavor.

As I continued to work my way up to Le Courtois’ more recent work, her art began to explore the universal processes behind consumption as opposed to the individual’s relationship to them. Making my way through a candy curtain, I first stumbled upon the work Cheetovore (2002), hanging from the ceiling like meat hung out at a butcher. Comprised of an ambiguous organic form covered with the iconic snack food eaten by so many Americans, the piece also emanated the sound of this very food being eaten. I couldn’t help but smile at myself for recognizing and agreeing with Le Courtois’ choice of medium in using the “Flamin’ Hot” version of the snack food due to its artificially blood-red color. This color, combined with the suggestive structure of the sculpture carried a powerful warning about how we perceive the food we eat. Like the snack food, Cheetovore is artificial, a direct contrast to the perceived “naturalness” of the meat it masquerades to be, questioning the distinction people make between industrially produced food and what is considered to be natural. Cheetovore brilliantly plays off the fact that this conflict is further muddled by the production of meat in a similar fashion to our chemically enhanced snack food. Rounding the corner, the disconcerting sculpture, Venus of Consumption (2010) greeted me, as if in response to the whole idea of junk food’s transformation into our natural world.

Crafted from yarn, stuffing and silicone, the Venus figure recalls poses rich with an art historical context, only this sculpture grossly distorts the ideal proportions and conceptions of this classic reclining nude. Still containing graceful curves reminiscent of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) or Ingres’ Le Grand Odalisque (1814), the nude figure’s bloated body recalls the changing image of beauty and the body in our mass-produced world of food. Glistening as if covered in sugar crystals, Venus of Consumption plays off our society’s need for a sensuous female figure. Presented as if for male visual consumption, the sugar aspect reflects a process used in the candy industry to make products even sweeter and more appealing to consumers. Beckoning with its own sugary charm, Shane (2010) stands only a few feet away, appearing naked at first due to an optical illusion of a multitude of pastel colored marshmallows blending to a flesh tone. Like Venus of Consumption, this work addresses the modern predicament of body image and its relationship to the food we consume and produce.

My favorite works on display in Edible? were a series of cast iron food objects, some rotten and some appearing almost edible. Casting these shapes emphasized their quality of shape, as every viewing angle resulted in a completely different form. Combining mass-production methods with natural processes such as decay and consumption, the resulting works reflected our increasing reliance on industrial methods of food collection and preservation. In one work, Moldy Sculptures (2001) the artist had cast in iron the rotten remnants of apple cores, noodles and other random items found in her fridge. Barely recognizable, the shapes were incredibly complex in their form, seeming figurative at times, and completely abstract in others. Le Courtois had also taken to casting other food objects with works such as Apple Cores (2007) and Artichoke (2011) forever preserving the processes by which we consume food.

Culminating in the interactive installation Garden of Earthly Delites (2010) Viviane Le Courtois aimed to unite her audience through a natural cycle of consumption. Low hanging grow lamps surrounded by rugs made of recycled t-shirts offered small gardens of various tea plants for viewer consumption. After picking up a small handmade terra cotta cup, I made myself some simple mint tea and lost myself in the Kombucha Etchings (2010) lining the walls of the installation. Sitting on the rug without any other visitors, I could image how lively the gallery would be on any given Saturday during the course of the exhibition, when the artist would visit to have tea with her audience. As a culmination of her exploration of the social and artistic connotations of food, Garden of Earthly Delites (2012) was a social happening in every sense of the word. As a closing gesture, the terra cotta cups were returned to dust by flinging them into the wall, a much more enjoyable action than throwing something away. Allowing people to come together and experience art as an interaction between the foods we eat, the people who eat it and the people who grow it. Seen through this lens, the tea leaves and all the combinations that could be made with the different plants are works of art themselves, with different compositions being as individual as the cast iron Apple Cores.

Overall, Edible? was a thorough exploration of the social implications and aesthetic value of the food we eat. It’s clear that Viviane LeCourtois has been contemplating the artistic value that food has to offer for a long time. Her work was both exciting and informative for me as a viewer as it blurred the lines between studio practice and the finished work that is labeled “art.” Now next time I drink a cup of tea, I’ll think about the effort that went into its production and contemplate how it could be considered an art in its own right.

5 Responses

  1. Great paper, this exhibition sounds really interesting and I really enjoyed how you described her work through her exploration of food through her life as an artist in concordance with discussing the life of food, and it’s impact on human beings in consumption. This exploration of food art is really interesting with its comments about the consumption of food as we eat it as well as consumerism in food industry. Food has been a media used by many artist and performance artists of the 60s especially, and I get the impression that LeCourtois is making some similar comments to artists of the past in using the ephemeral qualities of food to comment on societies’ consumption. You should check out Schneeman’s Meat Joy performance, Daniel Spoerri’s Eat Art Galleries, and the Futurist Banquets and Cookbook, if you have any interest in food art in general.

  2. I also wrote my paper on Edible? and I have to say your description of “Venus of Consumption” (my favorite piece from Edible?) was outstanding. While I recognized the iconography of the sluggish reclining female as being a play on the idealized nude beauties seen in Western paintings, your description of the shiny resin coating on the figure really captivated my attention. I was definitely drawn to the Venus but I did not realize that her lacquered exterior mimicked the glossy sugar coating that is on many types of candy. Excellent observation and review!

  3. Awesome paper! I really enjoyed how detailed you got into the Venus of Consumption. Like Camille, it was my favorite piece in the entire exhibit. Also, you did a great job at finding background information about the artist. Great paper!

  4. I wasn’t able to attend this exhibit yet, but surely after your very detailed description I am very interested to see these works of art in person so I will be going this week sometime for sure. I love how the title of the exhibition is Edible? and it deals with things of that nature, as camille said about the sugar coated lady and as an object of desire almost like it would be a really good tasting candy. The play on which the artist uses recognizable pieces to create a new work of art entirely is pretty inspiring. Great job describing the pieces, even though I have never seen them I feel like you painted an entire masterpiece with your words and I can almost visualize what was in the gallery.

  5. I enjoyed your interpretation of her cast foods. The way in which you related industiral processes to organic conumption was a strong association. The artist’s critique of consumer culture is only accentuated by this incorporation of technological progression and our dependance on mass production and consumerism.

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