With the ever-present dueling powers of the art world/ art market, how does one find new ways to address commodification and consumerism in the arts? One artist, Jennifer Rubell has devised her solution to the problem: allow your visitor’s to consume your work. Literally.
This past week (December 2-4) Rubell exhbited her latest work Just Right, at the annual stateside Art Basel Miami Beach. First started in Basel, Switzerland in 1970, Art Basel is one of the premiere art events in the world, and its VIP attendees are consistently composed of top international art dealers, collectors, and celebrity guests. Needless to say, Art Basel is increasingly known primarily for its glitzy events and elite guest list.
In a no-holds-barred gesture, Rubell combined her sensorial passions for both aesthetic and culinary taste, and creates edible installations. Educated in both the fine and culinary arts and the daughter of the prominent Rubell family, Jennifer Rubell’s edible art combines aesthetics, performance, and conceptual platforms to draw out ideas of the artworld. In what are most often referred to as bacchanalian happenings, Rubell presents veritable mountains of carefully installed feasts to which are either presented as ticketed hosted events or as open to the public, and in this respect, her latest creation Just Right exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach is no different.
A happening based on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” guests entered through a small hole in the gallery wall which lead to a cottage filled with stacks of bowls, piles of spoons, pots of porridge, and mounds of turbinado sugar packets and Sunmaid raisin boxes alongside fridges full of milk– allowing each visitor to customize their “piece” until it is just right.
As with any performance based work, both the location and the audience are key to its reception and conceptual completion. Because of the nature of the Rubell’s pieces and their explicit interaction with the public, I believe each piece is thus very much activated by its unique audience; by who is consuming her work. Whereas some of her events such as the Brooklyn Museum’s Idols are installed for a select elite audience, pieces such as LACMA’s Old Fashioned was a free, public, event presented as part of their ongoing Fallen Fruit series as part of the BP (yes, as in British Petroleum) Pavilion; the wide ranging socioeconomic demographic of each piece’s consumers adding their own unique conceptual element to each piece.
Everything Rubell presents is buffet style; allowing her guests to eat and drink to their hearts’ content, further emphasizing practices of gluttony. Though other artists have worked with food and embraced food as a medium (such as Paul McCarthy, who certainly addresses food in a less appetizing manner), few have addressed it in the particular fashion Rubell chooses, insomuch as she presents food not as sculpted art object but as a consumable.
As I previously discussed, food is a rich source of metaphor; for not only does it relate to our moral value systems, cultural practices are performed in the rituals surrounding acts of eating. Not only does the artist make art’s inescapable commodity function explicit by both creating it out of commodity (food) as well as presenting it, literally, as a consumable, her conceptual framework which is present in the titles of her works draws out larger cultural themes, and creates a unique dialogue about art’s commodity status.