November 29, 2010  |  Counter Space, Events & Programs
Educator Journal: In the Making—Food & Art

A small portion of student artwork from the Food & Art class

For this Educator Journal, I asked teaching artist Alan Calpe to reflect upon the last seven weeks of his Food & Art class. Working with a diverse group of NYC teens, Alan has been investigating the Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen exhibition and exploring the various cultural and social connotations that artists bring to the table (so to speak) when addressing the idea of food in their work. The class has been up to their elbows in paper maché, and we’re all eagerly awaiting their final food-based projects.

-Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs

Making a beautiful mess in the MoMA studio

For our Food & Art class, apprentice educator Brenda Zamora and I have been working with our high school students to consider different approaches as to how food, cooking, and eating can become inspirations for creating art. This has included experiments that have ranged from using foodstuffs like peanut butter, breakfast cereal, and chocolate syrup as drawing materials, to creating performances that re-contextualize the rituals of eating. One of the projects that was really great to see come together had students constructing paper maché sculptures representing foods that have some personal significance to them.

A Food & Art(ist) working on her sculpture

To introduce the project, we looked at the work of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Martha Friedman, Paola Pivi, and Will Ryman, which helped spark incredibly engaged conversations about the implications of creating sculptures that resemble everyday foods. We then discussed what effect its familiarity can have on the viewer, as well as how scale, location (whether in a public space, a gallery, or museum), and the materials used to build the “food” all serve to shape and create meaning for our viewers. Once completed, we will assemble the objects together as a collaborative still-life installation that reflects the diverse perspectives of our students.

After I introduced the topic, the teens started brainstorming ideas and sketching versions of a sculpture of their choosing. I wanted them to begin by thinking of foods that had some relevance to their personal lives. Just like Andy Warhol reproduced his childhood lunch in his Campbell’s Soup Cans series, I wanted the teens to have a personal autobiographical connection to the food they chose as their subjects. Some chose their favorite food, while others chose something from their cultural background or something with a more esoteric link to their lives. After I demonstrated the basics of constructing forms out of paper maché, the students got to work discovering innovative ways to create armatures out of cardboard, recycled packaging, newspaper, tape, and foil. For many of the teens, it was their first time working with sculpture. It was exciting (and maybe a little nerve racking) for them to experiment with creating three-dimensional art.

Artist STO discussing his work with the teens

The next time our class met we introduced Brooklyn-based artist (and co-founder of Cinders Gallery) who goes by STO to present his work. Bringing in an impressive display of his own paper maché sculptures of food (including a birthday cake, sushi, condiments, a two-piece fried chicken dinner with fries, and various fruits and vegetables) as well as other familiar everyday objects (like digital clocks, boxing gloves, and skulls) the conversation proved to be a great experience for the students. They were able to talk to STO about his own interests in exploring themes of food in his artistic practice and, as they were in the early stages of their own sculptures, they were able to see first-hand how artists have used similar techniques and materials.

Since the fast paced nature of our class requires us to move onto new projects, especially as they prepare for their final projects, I’ve encouraged the teens to complete their sculptures independently either at home or during our optional Monday night Open Studios here at the Museum. Their dedication and personal investment has been so evident as I arrive to class every week, thrilled with the progress of their objects. We’re all looking forward to presenting the finished work: an impressive and curious display that includes a huge slice of chocolate cake, a bubble tea drink, Spam, a halved avocado, a chocolate candy bar, a bag of peanuts, a Chinese take-out box (and much much more!) as part of our culminating exhibition in December.

Come see the final artworks at the Fall 2010 In the Making Exhibition, on view from December 17, 2010 through January 20, 2011 in MoMA’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building.