A sweet tooth doesn’t have to stop at the taste buds. Piled high with soft, runny cheese, roasted pheasant in feathered carcass, dewy grapes, and fresh bread on silver platters, Dutch “banquet pieces” painted during the 17th century laid a feast right under the viewer’s nose, creating the illusion of scent and texture, along with taste.
Underneath the glistening surfaces, a web of competing messages. As wealth increased in Northern Europe, these sumptuous paintings were often tempered by skulls, candles, and religious symbolism to remind viewers their possessions would be of little use in the afterlife.
During the pop art era, food became a metaphor for excess, industrialization, and consumption under global capitalism. In the West, bright packages and advertisements turned food into cheap entertainment, ready to eat in seconds and available for pennies. Feminist artists like Judy Chicago used food to challenge oppressive gender roles in the 1970s, while other artists experimented with cheese, chocolate, and butter as material for their work. In the 21st century, as new technologies laid the groundwork for round-the-clock surveillance and omnipresent screens, artists resisted alienation by tapping into the communal aspects of food prep and shared meals.
With the millennium now squarely behind us, we invite our audience to the table for another serving of bread, fat, salt, sugar, culture, and conversation. The work included in Sugar Rush explores the complex role of food in our lives as we enter a new era of scarcity provoked by nationalism, climate change, inflation, and lopsided global trade. The work careens from classic still life to sticky gas station treat in a candy-coated heartbeat, a smorgasbord of simple joys, sugary highs, and social commentary wrapped in a bright package and passed around the table.
View Sugar Rush here.
Consumption, Capitalism, and Domesticity
Jam-packed with hyper-domestic objects—Campbell’s soup cans, retro television sets, Monopoly game pieces—photographer Patty Carroll’s work chronicles the horrific fate of housebound women: literally crushed to death under a heady mixture of societal expectations and condensed chicken noodle soup. Her contribution to the show, “Jell-O,” depicts a red-haired woman collapsed over a strawberry Jell-O mold.
Lurid lighting in Troy Paiva’s “Cuervo de Amor” (above) transports viewers to a dilapidated hotel for a drunken soak in a heart-shaped hot tub, while Caoin Springer’s “Late Night Cravings” presents a panoply of cherished American junk food.
Community, Culture, and Coming of Age
Inspired by the rich textile traditions of his Brazilian American background, Jonni Cheatwood creates patchwork-style paintings that reveal a family photo album’s worth of memories. In works like “Cake Sandwich,” he uses family photos as source material, converting his childhood memories into scraps of cloth and painted figures who pose for the camera at black tie affairs and kiddie birthday parties alike.
Marcelina Gonzales creates oil-tinted resin works that reconstruct the artist’s memories of growing up in an American border town. Marcelina was born in Brownsville, a thriving town at the southernmost tip of Texas known for its unique fusion of Mexican and American cultures. In “Saturday 1996: Tales From the Crypt and Pistachios in the Dark,” Marcelina carefully constructs a mini coming-of-age narrative that lays bare the awkward yet magical nature of adolescence. The high-gloss resin creates a stylized surface that mirrors both the murkiness and rosy nostalgia of a childhood memory. Marcelina sees these adolescent images as both universal and personal, allowing the work to bridge the gap between individual identity and the broader need to belong.
Blending elements of Latin American culture, urban modernity, and sci-fi fantasy, Juan Jimenez creates deep-space scenes showing technology’s potential to enhance culture and tradition instead of replacing it. Included in the show, his work “Masa Madre” (or “starter dough” in English), taps into the rich history of grains as a staple food.
Sex, Gender, Leisure, and Simple Pleasures
Like Judy Chicago, Jennifer Hand uses food and metaphor to expose oppressive gender roles. Her exquisite blown glass piece “Popped Cherry” explores the “loaded language surrounding female sexuality using the device of the cherry.”
Paige Mazurek nails the eerie feeling of nostalgia with the sno-ball inspired “Skylite: Twin-Flames, Cherry, Egg-Custard (the Best),” an illuminated sculptural work crafted with resin, polymer clay and UV-reactive materials. Though she’s certainly nibbled on a cherry sno-ball at one point in her life, Paige is just as fascinated with the snowball as an object of Americana living in the memory of millions.
Covering similar territory, Alex Coronel contributes mixed-media work “Good Squishee” to Sugar Rush. Fans of The Simpsons’ canonical years (seasons three through eight—fight us) will instantly recognize Springfield’s off-brand Slurpee in Alex’s chaotic work, which piles on pop-culture imagery with wild abandon.
View Sugar Rush here.