Feel like a bite? OTE's edible appraisals

  A Mayan chief forbids a person to touch a jar of chocolate, (more than a thousand years old, via wikimedia)

A Mayan chief forbids a person to touch a jar of chocolate, (more than a thousand years old, via wikimedia)

In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday with a distinctly foodie focus, we thought it might be fun to have a blog post dedicated to our experiences with food art.

Unsurprisingly throughout art history food has been the subject of many a painting/ sculpture/print/wood carving, and, let’s be honest every other kind of medium. Recent times have shown that it is more than just a subject. Contemporary artists have transcended merely depicting food to using it. Take Rirkrit Tiravanija’s conceptual installation/performance piece untitled (Free). Originally shown at 303 Gallery in 1992, it was recreated at MoMA as part of the Contemporary Galleries: 1980–Now installation in 2012. The exhibition converted a gallery into a kitchen where the artist served rice and Thai curry, using food as the medium with which to create art and a unique visitor experience. This piece is not alone.  In 1958 during the exhibition The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void Yves Klein served blue- cocktails to gallery visitors asking them to literally consume the artwork. Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist is well known for his chocolate syrup drawings, one of which was of the Leonardo's ''Last Supper.” 

 Chocolate

Chocolate

However, OTE has found that there are some unique challenges for owners of art using material as short-lived as food.

One of OTE’s many memorable appraisals, this case featured an artwork made of white, milk and dark chocolate and ink jet print laid on canvas. The damage was the result of a gust of wind that had caused fragile portions of chocolate to separate completely from the canvas. Sadly, the lost pieces of chocolate were not recovered. This was not the only damage the appraisers discovered. In one corner there was evidence of a mouse having nibbled on the yummy artwork. In this case the artist had intended for the work to “evolve,” which actually allowed for the loss of some of the chocolate and tampering from rodents and other animals. Less cute was the appearance of mold on other parts of the piece. The extent of the damage meant that it would need restoration, and ultimately sustain a substantial loss in value. Restoration required consolidating and re-adhering lifting/peeling areas of the material; unfortunately both costly and time consuming.

Another dilemma au chocolate involved a painting where the artist had stuck M&M’s to canvas, covering them in resin, and using them to dye the surrounding surface. Some of the M&M’s had become damaged (as seen in the picture below) and we had to determine whether this was the result of some sort of accidental damage or whether it was the inherent vice of the materials (i.e. the result of the materials themselves).  Research included some interesting conversations with a confused and curious customer service representative from Mars (the company that owns M&M). From her reaction we gathered that Mars did not often get questions like: what is an optimum temperature for an M&M? How long does the dye on an M&M last? How long would it take an exposed M&M to deteriorate, and what would this be if say the M&M were covered in, hypothetically, something like resin?

 Detail of the damaged work

Detail of the damaged work

What we found out was that once you open the bag, Mars pretty much doesn't care what happens to M&M’s and really doesn't like to speculate. What could be extrapolated was that in the bag M&M’s should be stored at around 70 degrees in a cool dry place and that when exposed to heat M&M’s were likely to deteriorate more quickly. Probably, the Mars rep grudgingly admitted, it wasn't a stretch to say that M&M’s were indeed likely to deteriorate naturally over time, even when covered in resin. Following this data collection process, and our examination of the piece it was determined that it was the inherent vice of the M&M’s that was responsible for the loss. Mice, it seems, were not as industrious as our previous case had led us to believe.

If you choose to own something as wonderfully transient as art made with food, expectations of the work should follow accordingly. You may have to face the fact that something wants to eat it.