By Alex Beggs, May 4, 2017
No one throws Surrealist dinner parties like they used to. When was the last time you invited a few friends over, and served them an entirely blue-dyed feast? Not recent enough, that’s for sure.
At the TEFAF Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, Di Donna Galleries will present “A Surrealist Banquet” from May 4-8. After that it will return to Di Donna Galleries from May 11 to June 2. There aren’t a ton of art shows for food lovers, so if you’re in New York, don’t miss this one. Over 50 pieces of completely delightful, unexpected, funny, and playful paintings, objets, sculpture, and drawings will decorate a dining room set up as a grand banquet for the eyes.
“We’ve invited different artists to represent different aspects of food,” curator Emmanuel Di Donna told us, “from an apple by Man Ray to ‘Leaning Fork with Meatball and Spaghetti’ by Claes Oldenburg, or a painted pomegranate by André Masson, or a piece of cheese by Magritte. They all relate to some aspect of a dinner, or an after-dinner smoke, like a Man Ray pipe with a bubble.” In the decades when a lot of these pieces were made, blue bread and bronze apples were as far from reality as you could get. Now we have unicorn frappucinos, ramen burgers, and rainbow bagels. What would those master Surrealists think of those? “They’d probably like it!” said Di Donna.
One of the show’s centerpieces is a bust by Salvador Dalí of a mannequin with a baguette (topped with an inkwell) balanced on her head and two corn cobs around her neck. Dalí made a handful of these sculptures, playing with different random (or not so random) objects. Interpret as you wish: phallic baguette, objectified woman being consumed by ants, whatever inkwells mean... Fun fact: the original, in 1933, was made with a real baguette, which Picasso’s dog reportedly ate. Because of that—and the fact that time happens—it was remade into eight editions in the mid-seventies under supervision from the artist’s estate. This one is a painted bronze. It's “a strange assemblage,” Di Donna said, “that’s meant to surprise the viewer.”
Another piece, a bright blue baguette by Man Ray (“he played a lot with food,” said Di Donna), was also originally a loaf of bread, painted, until mice eventually got to it and it was recreated in resin. “It’s displacement, putting objects in a place you least expect them, making surprise and wonder in the viewer. I think that was the ultimate motives of those artists.”
The food in these Surrealist works plays on Freudian innuendo and the subconscious and all that sex stuff, but also the unexpected and just plain fun, like Wayne Thiebaud's Sandwich (up top—ha ha, it’s a face!). If you’re craving cake, check out more of the 95-year-old’s delicious paintings here.
As Di Donna put it, more more elegantly than me: “Every one of those works has a higher meaning in a way, it's not food just to represent food, it’s food mixed with emotion, or with Magritte the bottle transforming into a carrot, it’s about mixing objects, transformation, a lot more than just food.” Man Ray’s object above was a series of nine boxes with forks and knives around cotton nets filled with wood beads (yum); you can almost picture them placed around a table. Funny enough, one of Man Ray’s longtime loves and muses was with the photographer Lee Miller, who threw Surrealist gourmet dinner parties with dishes like green chicken, or replica Elizabethan feasts of entire roasted pigs.
There are some works—like the Balthus bouquet and an Alexander Calder spider hanging from the ceiling above the table—in the exhibition that aren't necessarily Surrealist, but fit in to the dinner scene. If the transforming carrots and painted cheeses under real cloches are a “play on reality and representation of reality,” per Di Donna, the entire setup of the exhibit play on the concept of dinner party. So make sure to stop by and mingle, just don’t take any bites.