In front of the entrance of the Pace gallery in Burlington Gardens is a large menu listing the day’s specials. This doesn’t seem too surprising at first as the area is full of top restaurants and there is an eatery inside the building. However, upon closer inspection, instead of edible dishes, the specials board is taken over by a list of contemporary artists, thus giving us a clue as to what is inside the gallery doors.
This exhibition pokes fun at our interest in food, photography and the combination of the two, which has seen hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of diners across the world taken pictures of their gourmet food and uploading them onto social media before eating it. I would be surprised if at least half of those reading this article have not been guilty of this at least once (I know I have been many times). Although the exhibition also features sculpture, video and installation, it is photography that appears to dominate, which could not be more relevant in the current global climate where we feel the need to take pictures and upload them everywhere to show what we have been doing.
The show which has been presented in collaboration with Saudi-born but London-based art collector Abdullah AlTurki is international in its range of artists on display as well as the food shown in the work. Everything from Italian spaghetti and meatballs to ramen noodles, sushi and kebabs is on show here, so don’t worry, this menu is suitable for everyone. In his video Eating Landscape, Song Dong presents a scene where meat and fish make up the landscape that is then destroyed by a moving hand and chopsticks which begin to eat the food. Around the corner we are then presented with a rotating kebab machine created by Keith Coventry, cast in bronze and a dark juxtaposition to the bright colours of Song Dong’s landscape.
In terms of photography one is spoilt for choice. However, standouts for me were Elad Lassry’s bright blue eggs and Fan Zhong’s ramen. The simplicity of these two works is what made them really stand out. Also noteworthy are Mat Collishaw’s images from his series documenting last meals on death row. These are in a huge contrast to the aforementioned photographs that are bright and vibrant. Collishaw’s pictures are dark and gloomy. They remind me of still life vanities paintings, full of memento mori. In a way, these have the same affect, they are a reminder that life ends, and they will end with that particular meal. Even the backdrop and table on which the food is presented are as dark as can be, and the dark wooden frames in which they are displayed make them even more austere.
I would also like to mention the work of Yto Barrada and Mona Hatoum whose work both focuses on the post-dining environment and the packaging in which food is packed in. Barrada’s Papier Plies is a series of dirty take away packets and serviettes which have been used and discarded, perhaps a response to show what happens once the food has been devoured. Similarly, Mona Hatoum presents an image of an empty cardboard take away box in which she has drawn a map of the world to show how easy it is to eat cuisine anywhere on the planet.
This exhibition certainly is delicious. However, just like a good meal, a lot of preparation and work has gone on in order to plate up the finished dish. There is certainly more than meets the surface.
Today’s Specials is on display at Pace London until 6th September