It’s a necessity, a joy, sometimes a luxury, often too scarce, a chameleon that takes different shapes in different cultures and contexts, and the subject of Oklahoma Contemporary’s latest exhibit: food.
The Art of Food: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation will be on display from Feb. 2 through May 22, with an opening celebration from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 9.
Admission to the exhibit is free, but tickets are required for the opening celebration.
Oklahoma Contemporary Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis described the exhibit as “a creative exploration of everything that revolves around food and the things around which food revolves.”
The show invites its viewers to take a deeper look at the role sustenance plays in their lives.
“It’s an opportunity to, in a fun and at times deep way, interrogate the things that nourish our bodies and the cultures that revolve around the things that we eat and grow,” Davis said.
The subject matter makes the artwork relatable to a wide range of audiences.
“Whether they’re new to contemporary art or whether they are dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying contemporary art enthusiasts. There’s work that’s fun, immediately recognizable. Things that will make people laugh, that will delight children,” he said.
Davis said he also wants to encourage viewers to think in depth about their relationships with food.
“I hope that it inspires them to think a little bit more deeply about their own relationship to food, whether that’s a cultural one—depending on where they grew up—or how their families introduced food and food culture to them, how our food is grown and processed, how we relate to food, whether that’s as an idea, as nourishment, as a cultural carrier of information and histories,” he said. “And, really, to think about not only what exists in the past but how they want to think about the culture of food in Oklahoma in the future.”
The Art of Food includes work by various artists and is united by the common theme rather than a singular artistic approach.
“It is an exhibition featuring 36 postwar and contemporary artists and about 100 objects that engage with different aspects of food, from community to foodways, agriculture, control, and then some things that are more related to traditional depiction of foods, like still lifes,” Davis said.
“This gives us the opportunity to let our audiences, without having to book a plane ticket, come down to Oklahoma Contemporary, get a free admission to the galleries, and scope out works by people like Roy Lichtenstein and Jenny Holzer, Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, you know some of the major names that are present in the show.”
The exhibition includes both well-known and lesser-known pieces from a total of 36 artists, including Katherine Ace, Neal Ambrose-Smith, Enrique Chagoya, David Gilhooly, Damien Hirst and Hung Liu.
“There’s also a few of these really lovely, small scale watercolors depicting bar scenes from [Warhol’s] hometown of Pittsburgh that he created before he moved to New York to launch his iconic career in the contemporary art world,” Davis said.
And Chagoya’s work in the exhibit riffs off Andy Warhol’s famous soup cans.
“So that intrigues us because Andy Warhol’s already paved the way for us seeing soup cans as a fascinating object,” Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation President Jordan Schnitzer said. “But then Enrique Chagoya puts his own words in, which makes us think differently about his perspective.”
Schnitzer said he sees himself as “a sort of Johnny Appleseed of art,” and enjoys sharing his art collection with communities across the United States.
“We brought the biggest names of the last 50 years, right to their own community, right there,” he said. “Just blocks away from where people live and work in Oklahoma City.”
Journey to Oklahoma
The show was first brought to fruition by Interim Director and Curator of Exhibitions Olivia Miller at The University of Arizona Museum of Art as a curated exhibit from the art collection of the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation.
“My process is a bit of an ebb and flow,” Miller said. “And what I mean by that is that I start really big. So you know, the first part of this exhibition had to do with just gathering all of the relevant images and so that involved working with the staff at the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, and just asking them to gather any image that would relate to food or drink.”
The resulting selection was large enough to require being narrowed down.
“Food is a huge topic. I could have gone in any number of directions,” Miller said.
Narrowing criteria included logistical concerns such as available space, but also creative considerations.
“As the themes began to take shape, works that maybe were initially on my list, I felt like they were now becoming a bit more tangential to the focus and so that was another way they got cut,” she said.
The Art of Food exhibition was previously on display at the University of Arizona from Oct. 2021 to March 2022. It found its way to Oklahoma Contemporary through the museum’s prior relationship with the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
“We established a relationship with Jordan Schnitzer and his family foundation years ago when we borrowed several objects from their collection for inclusion in our 2021 exhibition ‘Ed Ruscha: OKLA,’” Davis said.
Choosing and planning future exhibitions is a process that typically starts about two years in advance. Once the museum decides on a traveling exhibit to bring in—which they do approximately once every two years, Davis said—it’s time to start the preparations.
The museum will also include opportunities for viewers to interact on an in-depth level with the content and context of the works.
“We build education programs around it, we think about how to connect it with our community through marketing and advertising communications,” Davis said. “We also ponder how we’re going to support it.”
“We’re creating an art gallery installation directly adjacent to the exhibition space that allows our visitors to come in, dig in a little bit, flip through some books, maybe check out a documentary about the show or relevant to the themes that are present in the show,” Davis said.
The planned education programming includes a free public tour of The Art of Food exhibit at 1 p.m. every Saturday.
On the second Saturday of March, the museum’s Second Saturday XL program will focus around The Art of Food, with family-friendly activities including food-themed art projects.
On April 6, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., the community will have the chance to hear a talk with Native artist Neal Ambrose Smith and chef Loretta Barrett Oden.
The museum also has two Spring Break children’s art camps themed around food: “Make & CreATE!” And “Clay Cravings.” Registration closes March 5.