Arts and Foods: finally a seminal show in Milan (that was not that expensive)

Expo 2015’s largest exhibition, focused on how arts have been coupled with foods during the last 150 years, has been hardly criticized for being too expensive. But 7.5 million euro doesn’t seem really that much considering the quality of artworks and information the curatorial team led by Germano Celant has been able to gather together to analyse the complex relationship between these two close yet different galaxies.


From the effective reconstruction of a picnic setting at the time impressionists were describing the new entertainments of the bourgeoisies (with a couple of main paintings by Giuseppe De Nittis and Plinio Nomellini on the background), to Jean Prouvé’ ironic “Maison pour les jours meilleurs”, perfectly re-enacted for the occasion (decorative objects included), this not-to-be-missed exhibition is probably what you should have in mind before attending the scarcely visited, and sometimes ridiculously expensive Expo’s pavilions (don’t try to go there by car as it’s a mess!). You will definitely learn how one of the basic elements of our life – food – has been progressively manipulated by the modern advertising system and how a “need” can be easily turned into a “desire” as soon as it is not a need anymore. In this regards, do compare the attention paid to the instruments for eating or making food until the Second World War to the sexy naked female body used by Mel Ramos to promote ready-made food such as ketchup bottles.


Moreover, as soon as you start reading the captions beside the artworks, objects, books and installations on display (yes, the “Museum of innocence”’s effect is more than evident here) you will realize that there is a second important layer to be taken into consideration. The beautiful group of knives in the first showcase, for example, belongs to Aldo and Edda Lorenzi who have collected more than 2000 cutting tools and implements of unusual workmanship, with examples ranging from the seventeenth century to the present. The Lorenzi, such as Gemma Testa, the Galerie Gumrzynska, the Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla, or Vladimir Tsarenkov, are among the many lenders who have made this temporary hyper-collection possible, proving once again how dramatically huge is the difference between buying art just for the sake of it (or for investment) and set up a respectable collection. And we are pretty sure that Mr. Utz – do you remember the sarcastic collector of Meissen porcelains of the great novel by Bruce Chatwin? – would be amazed by this show.


He would probably point out too that the first part of this exhibition – the best one – also enquires the real settings where the artworks that today we generally admire hanging on the walls of museums were originally exhibited. The cubist and the futurist rooms, with their original furnitures, or the aristocratic dining-room from the seventeenth century that opens the show (meaningfully paired with a primitive peasant kitchen), are perhaps not something never seen before. Yet, having them one next to the other is quite instructive, especially for those who are familiar with the art produced at those times.


Effectively in the second part of the show the magic created by rare settings and objects gets lost. Here mere artworks are on display. No surprise in the three last suppers by Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman and Vik Muniz, or in the predictable fork with spaghetti by Cles Olenburg. But far from being a weak point to be criticized, this ends up to highlight the importance of the first half.

July 21, 2015