The Riverdale Press, 01/29/15
Much food for thought at BRAC show

By Shant Shahrigian | web link

Consider the coffee cup. Few things, it seems, could be more utilitarian. Most are designed to contain the maximum volume of liquid in the least amount of space, and the purpose of the beverage, of course, is to make your more efficient at whatever it is you are doing between sips.

But what about the way we lift our beverages, that simple gesture of carrying drink from table or cup holder to mouth? What if some rascal — or, say, an accomplished artist and scholar of design — crafted a cup that required you to contort limb or lip just to quaff your coveted caffeine?

That is what Emilie Baltz has done with a series of small, white coffee cups on display at the Bronx River Art Center’s current exhibit. The pieces’ jagged contours require one to hold them from the bottom or from other strange angles. Like the other displays in “The Food Design Show,” which winds down this weekend, Ms. Baltz’s goal appears to be making you rethink the most basic components of how we eat.

"Gest" coffee cups on display at the Bronx River Art Center's "The Food Design Show."

“But is it art?”

An engaging speaker addressed the issue head-on during a recent evening at the center’s temporary gallery, located at 305 E. 104th St. in the south Bronx. Brett Littman focused exclusively on the works anchoring the show, a lengthy slideshow of dishes prepared at the legendary restaurant elBulli along with drawings and schemes by the culinary innovator, Ferran Adrià, behind the establishment.

Mr. Littman previously organized a much-publicized exhibit culling the massive archive of pictograms, plate drawings and other designs that the groundbreaking chef used to create the 1,846 unique dishes he served until closing elBulli in Catalonia, Spain in 2011. A sample of Mr. Littman’s “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity” is at the Bronx River Art Center’s current show.

On Jan. 22, the curator described his once-in-a-lifetime experience of dining at elBulli and expounded on Mr. Adrià’s creative process while the reel of fantastical dishes played on a projection screen and listeners’ mouths might have watered.

Throughout the talk, Mr. Littman discussed objections to showing a chef’s drawings at an art gallery.

“The idea that food can be art is surely a more controversial concept,” he said.

A plate diagram drawn by elBulli's chef Ferran Adrià.

He went on to explain that discussions about his original show have varied since moving from The Drawing Center in Manhattan, where Mr. Littman is executive director. Some Spanish critics were described as nearly scandalized by the concept. But the curator said Mr. Adrià’s archives have inspired audiences at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, where the show is currently on display, to think hard about many aspects of food.

“The dialogue in Cleveland was a totally different dialogue than what it was in New York. No one ever talked about art. No one cared about whether or not it was in a major museum,” Mr. Littman said. “What people want to talk is food culture. People want to talk about economy of food... People want to talk about people starving in their neighborhood.”

A screengrab from the documentary "1846" which showcases every dish created at the legendary restaurant elBulli in Catalonia, Spain.

Mr. Littman pointed to other works at the Bronx River Art Center’s inviting space as potentially raising similar issues.

Those include a series of discs that have gathered ordinary microbes, by engineer Eric Rosenthal and a group called the Cotard Syndicate, and a series of photos of ordinary foods arranged in the shape of a bed or covered in gold.

Mr. Littman said those unusual angles on food revealed how transformation is a fundamental element of the things we process, put on a plate and eventually eat.

“Maybe putting it in the art box doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be art,” he remarked. “Maybe it’s about that art can actually go out of that box and be in the neighborhood.”

The Bronx River Art Center’s current show is the first in a two-year-long series of 10 exhibitions called “Food Systems, Surrounding & Sensibilities” curated by Karine Duteil.

"Honey Pots" by Maggie Nelson.

“The Food Design Show” runs until Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Bronx River Art Center’s temporary location at BRAC on the Block @ Bronx Art Space, located at 305 E. 104th St. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 3 to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 12 to 5 p.m.

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This program is made possible with support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, including Council Members Eric Dinowitz, Althea Stevens, Kristy Marmorato and the Bronx Delegation. Additional support is from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, the NYS Council on the Arts with support from Governor Kathy Hochul and the NYS Legislature. Foundation support is from Con Edison: The Power of Giving, The New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, The Lincoln Fund, and private donors.

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