Le Courtois’ ‘Edible’ Exhibition– Samuel Lane

Perhaps one of my greatest fears while attending a museum or gallery is that a clueless passerby will accidentally knock over or destroy a piece of art, but to my surprise, that was exactly was I was told to do upon entrance at BMoCA this past weekend.  As I threw a small clay cup made by the Denver-based artist, Viviane Le Courtois, at the museum’s white wall I couldn’t help but feel somewhat liberated yet uncomfortable and awkward as museumgoers stared at me as if I had just committed a minor crime.  I suppose this interaction fit into the underlying theme highlighted by Le Courtois’ exhibition: consumption.

The French born artist, Viviane Le Courtois was born in 1969 but moved to the U.S. in 1994 to receive an MA in Art History from the University of Denver.  After reviewing Le Courtois’ extensive resume, I noticed her infatuation with food, particularly as a medium for her art.  It was no surprise that her spring exhibition at the BMoCA, entitled “Edible?” consisted of food-based sculptures, installations, drawings, and photographs.  This retrospective exhibit showcases her twenty-two years of working with food.

Strategically presented in the BMoCA’s naturally lit central room is a recent piece by the artist called The Garden of Earthly Delights, an interactive work that challenges the viewer to “relax, think, and interact.”  The interactive process of this piece is quite remarkable and feels somewhat ceremonial.  Situated in the center of the room are three small herb gardens, illuminated by black lamps that hang from the ceiling.  Viewers are instructed to pick a few leafs from the mint, verbena, thyme, sage, and rosemary plants to make tea.  The tea is then sipped out of a small clay cup that the artist made as museumgoers sit on the floor around a small stone table.  While sitting intimately amongst other viewers, the artist encourages people to eat freshly tended sprouts, which are grown in the museum as part of the piece.  Finally, when you have finished your tea, employees of BMoCA persuade viewers to throw their small clay cups at the wall, creating a visually fascinating installation.  This particular segment of Le Courtois’ work instantly transforms the entire piece from a peaceful and “relaxing” experience to a rather mutinous and chaotic occurrence.  This rapid shift plays on the notion of consumption, from an organic approach to somewhat wasteful ending as viewers destroy the artist’s handmade clay cups.  It’s easy to draw parallels regarding naturalism and organics from Le Courtois’ work.  The interesting juxtaposition of serenity and disorder make a vivid connotation on consumption and wastefulness, but of a material that is somewhat ubiquitous.

“Edible?” is what I had asked myself during the analysis of Le Courtois’ Kombucha installation.  Displayed next to The Garden of Earthly Delights are detailed sketches of raw Kambucha that also fit into the realm of naturalism and organics.  These elaborate prints surround a vitrine of existing, raw Kombucha.  The artist left the top of the display open so that the viewer could smell the Kombucha during an intimate observation.  For those who are unfamiliar with Kombucha, this piece is a terrific example of its biological compounds, which prove that the beverage is indeed alive.  Le Courtois is perhaps making yet another statement regarding consumption, commenting on the use of Kombucha as a beverage for people.  I would like to think that this example of consumption has a more optimistic approach than The Garden of Earthly Delights, as we do not destroy or waste Kombucha; rather, we embrace its health benefits and unique taste.  Le Courtois utilizes the organic science of Kombucha, reminding the viewer that the drink is still alive, even after it is consumed.  The etchings surrounding the jar of Kombucha are visually interesting and very precise, showcasing Le Courtois’ ability as a multi-medium artist.  Le Courtois had worked on these prints from 2004-2010.

In the room opposite from Le Courtois’ The Garden of Earthly Delights and Kombucha Etchings, embodies a very unnatural and glutinous aesthetic as her pieces consist of fattening and processed foods.  Perhaps one of Le Courtois’ standout pieces, Venus of Consumption, humorously flaunts obesity by a character that appears as if she had just walked out of a Roald Dahl book.  Without a doubt, the posture of this sculpture was meant to remind the viewer of Titan’s Venus of Urbino, produced in Italy in 1538 (eventually ‘replicated’ by Manet in 1863).  Although, due to the sculpture’s massive stomach, she is unable to reach over her body to lightly cover her genitalia, like Venus does in numerous paintings and interpretations.  More than historical Venus paintings, I see this sculpture very similar to Lucian Freud’s painting of the fat woman entitled, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (shown below), although there is nothing beautiful about Le Courtois’ sculpture.  The presentation of this specific work boldly confronts the issue of obesity, particularly in the United States.  The issue of overconsumption is a recurring motif in many of Le Courtois’ works such as her other sculpture presented at the exhibition entitled, Shane.  The concept of consumption is presented very literally in this piece as it is made of tiny marshmallows.  These marshmallows create a rather comical and fat character.  By incorporating marshmallows as a medium, Le Courtois blatantly demonstrates the affects of junk food.

  

In a rather technical presentation entitled, Pickles, the significance of consumption is stressed by the use of collection and conservation.  Similar to Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, Le Courtois displays strategically organized jars of pickles, candies, and Barbie dolls, which are situated in a tall display case.  This piece appears very scientific, visually, as jars are readily displayed for a thorough observation.  However, the contents of these jars are not scientific or methodically unique.  Le Courtois uses commonly found materials and objects to emphasize the act of consumption, like pickles, as people traditionally store mason jars of pickles in their homes.  I think that the materials spoke significantly to the artist as I could sense nostalgia; perhaps these were materials that the artist may have once stored in her home.  It was interesting to see this piece situated amongst obese sculptures because the materials in this work are contained in jars; not ready for instant consumption.  The fact that these materials are preserved in jars shows frugality and not wastefulness.

 

Viviane Le Courtois’ spring exhibition at the BMoCA highlights the concept of consumption, particularly overconsumption in the United States.  Le Courtois’ presentation was certainly eclectic as it weighed in on the many forms of consumption from serenity gardens to candy sculptures.  I really appreciate Le Courtois’ willingness to voice her concern on an issue that should readily be addressed.  I walked away from this exhibition, conscious of how not to waste.

 

Sources:

BMoCA Spring Exhibition pamphlet, including didactic from Le Courtois’ Edible?

Lucian Freud Photograph– simmeringhope.com, “Is Lucian Freud’s Painting Really Worth $33 Million?”

Damien Hirst Photograph– gb-histoire-de-lart.eklablog.com

 

 

7 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed your review of “Edible?”. Food is obviously a very important element in our society but I believe it is taken for granted. I think is special that the artist makes everyone sit in a communal room to drink tea and eat sprouts, but then force the audience to realize what gluttony and too much consumption can do. Good work!

  2. Samuel, it was clever to draw from historical references such as Lucian Freud’s painting, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. It makes you wonder where Le Courtois got her inspiration from… possibly from Freud??? Any account, well done kido!!!!

  3. i enjoyed your work as it drew on key historical references, however i feel that your work is a tad weak in the sense that you use i as opposed to writing a true analitical paper, however you achieve true insight and i feel that you effectively convey your personal experience with the exhibition.

  4. This is a great synopsis of the exhibit. You give a lot of details and pictures that really show you payed attention and truly enjoyed this exhibit. Also it was clear that you put in extra effort by looking up information outside of just going to the exhibit.

  5. I thought you did a great job explaining this exhibition and I enjoyed the extra take on it because the day I attended this, the artist was not there and so I had a slightly different, less interactive experience. It was really interesting to me how you related this uncomfortable feeling of breaking a tea cup in a gallery by throwing it at the wall, to the overall feeling of questioning consumption that the artist strives for. I also thought it was interesting how you included an older painting that the “Venus of Consumption” reminded you of, because it really hit home for me as well.

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