CITY SIGHTS: Finding the science-art in New York area art exhibitions
By Julia Buntaine, Editor-in-Chief
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
Upper West Side
"The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet" group exhibition
The Chelsea galleries are notorious 'cathedrals' of the art world - their vast, open spaces are impressive in size and polish, serving as sacred grounds in the art world where you silence your cell phones, talk in hushed tones, and revere the honored art. It is not often that one gets to walk into an actual cathedral and experience the contemporary art world. A space so large and beautiful that it is hard to not believe in some higher power while inside, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine opened its doors to the public Tuesday night for the reception and panel talk for their current exhibit, "The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet." Featuring over 40 artists from as many years of work, the art occupies nearly every nook and alcove to be found around the apse of the enormous space. More like an art fair than a gallery show in scale, there were pickles, deviled eggs, biscuits, chicken sandwiches, and seafood salad to sustain you along the ambulatory viewing journey as well as a wine bar and numerous whiskey tasting tables (to the chagrin of my previously-Catholic companion). Needless to say this was not your average art show or church experience.
Suzanne Anker, Kara Walker, Mel Chin, Claes Oldenburg, Dieter Roth, Joseph Bueys, and Alexis Rockman are only a few of the bigger names in the show; the art ranges from work made in the 60s to work made last year by contemporary emerging and mid-career artists, and in this way serves as a comprehensive survey of artists concerned with food politics, sustainability, and agricultural practice. Mother Jones, a sponsor of the exhibition and moderator of the panel talk, supplied a stand with informational pamphlets ranging from best practices in eating seafood to the benefits of public fruit trees. Falling under the six themes of "Meal," "Waste, "Water," "Soil," "Seed," "Farm," and "Market" this show was curated by Kirby Gookin and Robin Kahn, professor of critical studies at NYU and an artist, respectively, among other things.
From Christian Jankowski's Hunt film in which the artist shoots (with a bow and arrow) his grocery shopping list as a prerequisite to purchase, Jan Mun's beehive where bees could come and go as they please through a special hose to the outdoors, Tattfoo Tan's NEMRE (New Earth Meals Ready to Eat) vacuum sealed food, to Alexis Rockman's iconic The Farm, the show's size allows for live bees and paintings and videos and sculptures and prepared food to coexist with ease.
The exhibit pamphlet opens with the words of The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the Cathedral: "Food has shaped all my life...Across cultures and faiths, food frames encounters with holiness...We [at St. John the Divine] hope that "The Value of Food" will engage us interactively as transformational images help us re-imagine society as it could be...We will tell the truth - about what threatens us as global citizens...and about what endangers this planet, on which we depend."
Aside from the scale, the quantity of artists, and the quality of the work, this show is one breath of fresh air after another because of the simple, but critical fact that it is housed in a place of faith. In our ever dichotomized world, when one encounters something that doesn't settle for the black or white, it is utterly refreshing. Science and religion and art, as it turns out, can go very well together.
"The Value of Food" is open through April 3.
You can find The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam at 112th St in New York City.
All photos by Julia Buntaine.