Tuesday, June 15, 2010

art as food as art

Welcome back to "From Brooklyn to Beacon!
" For this post, we made dishes inspired by locally exhibited works of art.

(Above photos l to r: Lick and Lather by Janine Antoni; Shadows by Andy Warhol, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Photo: Bill Jacobson)

kate (brooklyn)

“Food Allowed in the Museum.” That was the name of a tour proposal for children that a fellow intern of mine at MoMA suggested one year while we worked at the museum together. It made total sense: between the Cezanne paintings of oranges and fruits to Claes Oldenburg’s giant foam cake sculpture there was definitely plenty of food inspiration! However, this idea was rejected and she was told it wasn’t very “serious.”

I thought my friend’s idea was an interesting one considering the history of food as subject matter in still-life paintings and sculpture, or as in artist Janine Antoni's case, food becoming the medium and the body becoming the object.

I came across Antoni’s work many years back in college and felt a connection in my own way to the different ideas she expressed through her work. I had the chance to hear her speak at the
Guggenheim last Friday and I enjoyed learning about her interest in trying new and out-of-the-ordinary materials and also how generous she was to explain her process to the audience – what had worked, what had failed, and what she had learned. Even though she spoke to a crowd of education and museum professionals, her talk could have been to a crowd of chefs, arachnologists, or demolition workers, as her work transcends many boundaries of what that we typically consider "art" and explores topics that we can all relate to. Antoni is constantly challenging herself to learn about and try new, totally off-the-wall things (such as comparing the weight and sound of a wrecking ball to the web pattern of spiders). I think that's why I like her work so much.

Currently, Antoni has a sculpture called
Lick and Lather on view at Luhring Augustine Gallery in Chelsea. The piece is made up of two self-portrait busts that she cast in chocolate and one in soap. She cast herself in alginate, a material used in dental offices for creating molds. For the chocolate bust, she melted thirty-five pounds of chocolate and poured it into the mold.

When I first saw this artwork, I couldn’t help but think of the classical Greek sculptures and how perfect in form they are (or were, before they lost parts of their arms, legs, and noses). I also think of copper or bronze sculptures in city squares that depict busts of politicians or historical figures. Antoni points to an
interview with Art 21 that “the thing about the classical bust is it’s usually reserved for depicting men and usually very powerful men, And then when we see women in classical sculpture they depict hope charity and love. I was particularly conscious of that when I made the bust and thinking about this act of erasure of this specific personality."

Antoni licked the sculpture across the face, over the cheek and over her eyes, lips, and nose. Her piece evokes different reactions and interpretations: awe, humor, shock, curiosity. I'm sure men and women have different reactions to this work. I instantly think of our ideals of beauty and how Antoni literally "erases" herself and comments on the "love-hate relationship we all have with our physical appearance."

Needless to say, it was very difficult for me to think of a way to justify this artwork with my own culinary skills. I very much admired Antoni's openness to discuss her learning process during her talk at the Guggenheim, which is something that we can all relate to: even us amateur cooks. Food is a way we express ourselves, our love, our creativity.
Having this work as part of the Chelsea gallery walk makes complete sense for a city that is both very self-conscious and always reinventing itself.

As I left the frigid Guggenheim auditorium, I walked out into the 90-degree heat and immediately needed something to cool me off. I had recently acquired an ice cream maker and it seemed like the prefect way to cool off over the weekend, which was only supposed to get warmer.

Fortunately, I didn't need to melt thirty-five pounds of chocolate. However, Antoni and I both use one similar ingredient: fenylamine. “All chocolate has fenylamine in it. That product is the chemical that’s produced in our body when we’re in love. So I think that’s why chocolate is so addictive," Antoni says.

Indeed, both art and food are addictive and intoxicating.

chocolate ice cream

adapted from
Food Network

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder (approximately 1/2 cup)
3 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
9 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place the cocoa powder along with 1 cup of the half and half into a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk to combine. Add the remaining half and half and the heavy cream. Bring the mixture just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and remove from the heat.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugar and whisk to combine. Temper the cream mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually adding small amounts, until about 1/3 of the cream mixture has been added. Pour in the remainder and return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon and reaches 170 to 175 degrees F. Pour the mixture into a container and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Place the mixture into the refrigerator and once it is cool enough not to form condensation on the lid, cover and store for 4 to 8 hours or until the temperature reaches 40 degrees F or below.

Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes. Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.

(Above photos l to r: Ice cream process; Finished and ready to lick/eat)

kristen (beacon)

When Kate came up with the idea for this post, I was worried. I love art, and value living in a city that is as immersed in art as
Beacon is, but for a non-artist like me, that can also be intimidating. I feel like I never quite know how to appropriately express how a piece of art makes me feel, so I’m generally quiet on the subject.

Beacon is a city that has been transformed by art. Down on its luck for the last few decades, new life was recently breathed into our city with the establishment of Dia:Beacon - a museum that houses large-scale contemporary works that cannot be accommodated by more conventional museums – and by an influx of creative, energetic, entrepreneurial, and artistic folks who have relocated from New York City and other areas to open innovative galleries, stores, and studios. The artistic vibe is one of the reasons BPJC and I moved to Beacon, too. Being around such creativity and innovation is constantly inspiring and uplifting.

But even amidst all of this awesomeness, I was nervous about making food inspired by a work of art in town. Would it be cliché, I wondered? Probably. Would I fail to express how I really feel about the art? Most likely. Should I just forge ahead with an open mind and see how I fare? Absolutely.

The first time I visited the Dia, I was blown away. It's not the kind of museum you expect to find in a small city like ours. It is special in ways that I cannot adequately describe (you’ll have to come and see for yourself). One of my fondest memories of that first visit (and subsequent ones) was walking into the massive room that houses Andy Warhol’s Shadows, which is a series of paintings in 102 parts. I sank into the couch in the middle of the room, and stared for what seemed like hours. I was transfixed.

I don’t pretend to know what the images in the paintings are, but the colors and how they work together are jarringly beautiful. Warhol used 17 hues in the piece, and according to Dia:Beacon’s website they range from a “Day-Glo acid green to a majestic purple, from a lurid turquoise to a sober brown.” It’s a strange, glorious combination.

Shadows is the first thing I think of now when I think of the Dia, so I had to choose it for this post. And naturally I had to make a cake. A cake with lots of layers and Shadows-inspired colors. I wanted to make 17 layers to represent each hue, but I needed it to stay (somewhat) upright, so only made 6. The cake, which was filled with dark chocolate buttercream and then frosted with vanilla bean buttercream, took about 4 hours to make and assemble, but it was worth it. It stained our teeth bright colors and may have been a bit too sweet, but it sparked a lively conversation about the art.

Working on this post helped me to realize that art is relative. I don’t need to be an expert, or to say something wildly intelligent about a work of art for it to be true. We all interpret and appreciate it in our own way, and should never be ashamed of that.

rainbow cake
adapted from Whisk Kid

2 sticks butter (at room temperature)
2 1/3 cups sugar
5 egg whites (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed for 30 seconds in microwave to bring to room temp
Food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line how ever many 8-9” cake pans you have (I have two and just reused them).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream the sugar and butter, then add the egg whites and add them a little at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Then, alternating between wet and dry, add the milk and flour mixture in two parts.
Divide the batter amongst 6 bowls and then whisk a fair amount of the appropriate food color into each bowl. Pour into the pans (I didn’t fill the pans over halfway) and bake for 15 minutes each. When you remove them from the oven, let them rest on the cooling rack, in the pan, for ten minutes. Then flip, cover, and stash them in the fridge to cool quickly.

dark chocolate buttercream frosting

5 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
12 tbsp butter
10-11 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla

Combine confectioners' sugar and cocoa in a small bowl. Cream butter with 1 cup of the cocoa mixture in a small bowl. Alternately add remaining cocoa mixture and milk; beat to spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.

vanilla buttercream frosting
adapted from Billy's Bakery

4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
12 to 14 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Scrapings of 1 vanilla bean

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 12 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.

(Above photos l to r: Frosting the colorful layers; Digging in)

View more of our photos from this post on Flickr.