February 26, 2013

F.O.O.D. at the Mint casts a new eye on eating

New exhibit is bilingual and two-country effort to consider the design of food objects

Art nourishes your soul. Design feeds your needs.

For the next few months, the place where they come together will be a new exhibit at the Mint Museum.

F.O.O.D. (Food, Objects, Objectives, Design) will not only bring together more than 300 modern objects involved in feeding ourselves, but it will also be notable on a couple of other scores. It’s the Mint’s first bilingual exhibit, and the co-curators are Mint director of craft and design Annie Carlano and Spanish artist Antoni Miralda (he prefers to be called Miralda) from Barcelona’s FoodCultura, an exhibition space that uses food objects to explore culture.

“We want to fill our museum with all kinds of people,” says Carlano. With a whole list of food-related events, including gathering recipes for the first Mint Museum cookbook, she hopes F.O.O.D. will get all kinds of people to look at everyday objects in a new way.

“The focus is really kind of innovative, 21st-century design harmonizing with contemporary, everyday objects.”

‘Always interested in food’

As an art historian, Carlano never considered doing something with food and art. But a food-design show actually was a natural.

She calls herself a foodie, and she came to Charlotte almost as interested in the local-food movement as she was in the museum. She volunteers at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and is active in the Slow Food organization.

“I was always interested in food. Always.”

The first-generation daughter of parents from Hungary and Italy, she was raised in a multicultural area in New York where the neighbors were Chinese and Ukrainian. She was 10 or 12 before she saw Wonder Bread. She remembers telling her parents about the strange, squishy-soft stuff a friend’s family ate.

When she was working in Sante Fe in 2005, she and two French colleagues started talking over dinner about how cool it would be to do something with design and food. The French side of that idea happened in France, a show called “Table: Art, Food and Culture.” But Table got tabled in America when Carlano left for a new job in Charlotte.

She never stopped thinking about the idea, though. The Mint’s craft and design collection has a lot of objects that were either inspired by food or used to create it, from ceramic face jugs to high-end serving pieces from the Italian design company Alessi.

“It was always on my mind to reconfigure this exhibit in a way that made sense for the Mint and for Charlotte,” she says. “It evolved that it would be more design-focused and less anthropology.”

‘You want Miralda’

Carlano stayed in touch with her French colleagues, looking for an artist who could be the focus of an exhibit. Instead, they steered her toward an artist who designs exhibits.

“They said, ‘you don’t want an artist. You want Miralda.’ ” A major figure in the art world, he’s known for installations that use food objects to explore meaning.

He agreed to spend two weeks in Charlotte, putting together a show with a framework of the rituals that involve food. The exhibit will be divided into four sections – Table, Kitchen, Pantry and Garden – what Carlano calls “those places in our homes that have tremendous meaning.”

Miralda also came up with another component. The Mint wanted to make the exhibit interactive. Miralda suggested recipes: At the end of the exhibit, you’ll have a chance to fill out a recipe card.

After the show closes, the museum will work with Johnson & Wales University to use some of the recipes for its first community cookbook.

Beauty of everyday objects

Bringing the exhibit together wasn’t all that easy, though.

“I owe so much to the design committee,” Carlano says. “They were behind me when people said, ‘Food and design? What?’ ”

She tried to tell a museum colleague in New York what she envisioned and got dismissed with “transgressive” – sniffy art-world speak for “that’s not art.”

Carlano doesn’t get that attitude at all.

“The most avant-garde industrial designers all speak eloquently of their interest in everyday-object making.”

It’s what she calls “art with a small ‘a.’ ” An artist might create a bowl as an object of beauty. A designer creates a bowl to hold something. Its purpose gives it beauty.

Carlano’s ultimate goal is for people to leave the exhibit and look at the objects of their lives with new perspective.

“I love things that are beautiful and useful,” she says. “I want people to realize that is really cool. That coffee cup” – she plops down a disposable coffee cup. “Look at that. That ridge around the edge of the lid didn’t just happen. It was designed to be that way. The branding on the lid that says ‘Solo.’ That didn’t just happen. That’s vernacular design.

“I want people to come away with excitement for the everyday objects of their lives. Your life is enriched by design.”

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