In Paris, in the early 1920s, Surrealist painter Joan Miro was hungry: “since I was very poor”, says Miro, “I could not afford more than one lunch a week: the other days I had to be contented with dried figs and I chewed gum.” Staring at the ceiling of his hotel room on an empty stomach, the artist would hallucinate. His starved body would regurgitate the dreamt up abstract shapes and biomorphic forms that would become his signature artistic vocabulary. Food and art have always been yoked together, from the fruity portraits of Arcimboldo to Fillippo Marinetti’s ‘Futurist Cookbook’, they nourish - one the body, one the mind.
Taking its title from a scene in the American sitcom ‘Frasier’, in response to his brother’s snobbishness “Wine list? My God, he ought to bring us blindfolds. I mean, what is he thinking with this artwork? It’s appalling!” the fictional psychoanalyst Niles Crane denounces the art on the walls of a restaurant. Food and art is the subject of Lauren Godfrey’s exhibition at Turf Projects in Croydon. Turf Projects is not-for-profit artist-run organisation with roots in the community. Walking from East Croydon station, through the high street outside with its chain stores, chain cafes and chain restaurants, it is something of an oasis.
Erik Benjamin’s sleazy pedal steel guitar sound installation fills the space, a kind of beach hut melody that pours a cocktail and shows you a hammock. In the main exhibition space, tables are set up and Ettore Sottsass, the deceased Italian designer and architect provides the cutlery. The knives shine like serrated mirrors, dazzling in their functional perfection. On the walls hang three assemblages by the young London-based artist George Little, each entitled ‘Wipedown’. Using cut up pieces of red and white table cloth, Little fixes them on wooden bases, each with a ledge on which is placed an ashtray, as if inviting you to stand in a beer garden. In these bits of blood, sweat and sawdust, the artist manages to conjure the feeling of an English ‘caff’. You can almost taste the grease.
Mixing with Erik Benjamins’ music, an irate voice calls “scuse me, excuse me” from the back of the room. I imagined there to be someone waving his hand for attention and asking for the wine list, but it came from a video by Glaswegian artist Bruce McLean, hidden around a corner. It shows a Scotsman at a smart restaurant complaining to the waiter about not wanting “camembert on the cuff” and “brie on the knee”. Instead of food, though, the waiter brings sculptures, annoying the customer even more. “Two Henry Moores on one plate”, he says, “that’s impossible. How are we going to get through that in two hours?”
Back in the main room, Danish artist Simon Dybbroe Møller’s plates of food fixed to the wall gave the room its Surrealist flavour. I thought I could smell the lacquered mussels, half expecting to get a whiff of fishy nastiness. Møller also produced the work ‘Beer & Piss’, a photograph of two pint glasses each filled with golden liquid. There was something about the brashness of this that really resonates and encapsulates the exhibition’s mantra: a heretical comedy taking the piss out of both high art and haute cuisine’s inherent haughtiness.
The young curator Lauren Godfrey has mixed up-and-coming contemporary artists with established figures and produced a thoughtful and humorous show. It sticks two fingers up at a world of art fair nouvelle cuisine and soya decaf frappucino lattes. My compliments to the chef.