MoMA Takes a Stand: Art From Banned Countries Comes Center Stage

“K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I)” right, by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

By Jason Farago, 3 February 2017

President Trump’s executive order banning travel and rescinding visas for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations does not lack for opponents in New York — from Kennedy Airport, where striking taxi drivers joined thousands of demonstrators, to the United Nations, whose new secretary general, António Guterres, said the measures “violate our basic principles.

Now the Museum of Modern Art — which in past decades has cultivated a templelike detachment — is making its voice heard as well. In one of the strongest protests yet by a major cultural institution, the museum has reconfigured its fifth-floor permanent-collection galleries — interrupting its narrative of Western Modernism, from Cézanne through World War II — to showcase contemporary art from Iran, Iraq and Sudan, whose citizens are subject to the ban. A Picasso came down. Matisse, down. Ensor, Boccioni, Picabia, Burri: They made way for artists who, if they are alive and abroad, cannot see their work in the museum’s most august galleries. (A work from a Syrian artist has been added to the film program. The other affected countries are Somalia, Yemen and Libya.)

The works will be up for several months, and alongside each painting, sculpture, or photograph is a text that makes no bones about why it has suddenly surfaced: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”

On Thursday night I observed three curators — Christophe Cherix, head of the department of prints and drawings; Jodi Hauptman, a senior curator in that department; and Paulina Pobocha, an assistant curator in the department of painting and sculpture — mulling which works from a rolling dolly to include and, no less challenging, what to remove.

In the recently redesigned Picasso gallery, that Spanish artist’s “Card Player” of 1913-14 has been replaced by “The Mosque,” a small oil painting from 1964 by the Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi. Mr. Salahi freely interweaves Modernist abstraction, Arabic calligraphy and architectural motifs. There’s a tonal rhyme between the burnished browns of “The Mosque” and the mucky beige and mushroom pigments of Picasso’s analytical Cubist tableaus — and Picasso’s own deep debt to African art is further underlined by his new company.

The Matisse gallery, where the masterworks “Dance” and “The Piano Lesson” hang, has been refitted with a large, intricate work on paper by the Iranian artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi. In his “Mon Père et Moi” (1962), stylized gold hands and feet accompany jam-packed squares containing concentric circles and dancing glyphs. Are the two figures performing sujud, the act of prostrating oneself during Muslim prayer? They are too abstract to say with certainty. Like Matisse, Mr. Zenderoudi translated bodies into pure shapes, informed by patterns gleaned from the decorative arts.

“The Prophet” by Parviz Tanavoli, center, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times)
“The Prophet” by Parviz Tanavoli, center, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times)

An untitled canvas covered in dried, cracked earth, by Marcos Grigorian, who grew up in Iran, now hangs amid similarly geological works by Alberto Burri and Antoni Tàpies. The gallery devoted to futurism has a small bronze totem by Parviz Tanavoli, one of Iran’s foremost sculptors. (Mr. Tanavoli, who divides his time between Iran and Canada, was briefly detained last year by Iranian authorities.) Now, next to Henri Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” is a painting by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect who died last year.

Hadid’s depiction of Hong Kong as an allover composition of interlocking shards satisfyingly fractures the gallery’s timeline of art around 1900, and other works, too, are installed almost as intentional disruptions.

A massive 2011 photograph of three billiard balls by Shirana Shahbazi — who has German citizenship but whose Iranian birth means she is now barred from this country — incongruously dominates the gallery devoted to Dada, right behind “To Be Looked At …,” Marcel Duchamp’s impish painting on glass. Next to a large, Expressionist street scene by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a 2007 video, “Chit Chat,” by Tala Madani, who was born in Iran, plays on a loop. The frames of the stop-motion animation derive from bold, brushy compositions Ms. Madani paints and repaints. But where Kirchner depicts the streets of Dresden with a certain alienated distance, the video — depicting men grabbing each other by the throat and vomiting up yellow paint — is quietly urgent.

“Chit Chat,” a video installation by Tala Madani, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times)
“Chit Chat,” a video installation by Tala Madani, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times)

America’s leading museums have been vocal in the past week about their opposition to Mr. Trump’s executive order, which is still being enforced at some airports. James Cuno, who leads the Getty in Los Angeles, called the order “ill advised, unnecessary and destructive.” Thomas P. Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, suggested that the blockbuster “Assyria to Iberia” might never have happened under Mr. Trump’s rules. Artists have participated in protests, especially in Los Angeles, home to the largest Persian community in the United States. The order will also have a negative effect on arts journalism; Roxana Azimi, the arts correspondent for Le Monde, is no longer able to enter the United States, as she was born in Iran.

But the speed and directness with which MoMA — not an institution usually thought of as nimble — has responded to Mr. Trump’s ban are especially impressive. Its particular force comes from the curators’ decision to present these works on the fifth floor, in the galleries most steeped in MoMA’s flowchart narrative of Modernist development. The Iranian, Iraqi and Sudanese art does not merely disrupt the old timeline of art history; it disrupts MoMA’s own institutional character. It says: Even the room in which Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” hangs is not irreproachable, but rather a particular story told by individuals, who at times must speak out.

The institution, of course, has never been divorced from power and politics. (MoMA’s continued sponsorship from Volkswagen — which admitted to installing illegal software in 11 million cars worldwide, resulting in more than $4.3 billion in fines — especially rankles.) But in the years to come, all institutions, from the most experimental to the most established, will have to decide whether to keep their heads down or whether to reply. This welcome new voice, less Olympian and more pluralistic, is not how MoMA has spoken in the past — but, then again, this is not how presidents have spoken in the past, either.

A version of this article appears in print on February 4, 2017, on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: MoMA Takes a Political Stand.

Original article : MoMA Takes a Stand: Art From Banned Countries Comes Center Stage

Chef Ferran Adrià and the problem of calling food art

A foreword from Listen To The World

If art is for artists, then cooking is for chefs. If one refers to the modern usage of the word fine art, where art is distinguished from functional or applied creations in the West (begins in the 17th century), then ‘art’ and ‘artists’ will not comply with ‘food’ and ‘chefs’. This hasn’t changed ever since—until this recent years.

He is Ferran Adria, the Spanish-born chef who challenged the boundaries between food and art. He has been called the world’s greatest chef. Gourmet magazine referred to Chef Adria as “the Salvador Dali­ of the kitchen”. His restaurant, El Bulli, was five times named best restaurant in the world by the prestigious Restaurant magazine. He earned such reputation by performing cooking experiments often associated with Molecular Gastronomy, the application of science to culinary and cooking practice; and he didn’t want to stop there. He wanted his cooking to be recognized as an art, and him as an artist.

Art Food by Chef Adria

Nowadays, it often isn’t enough for food to be just food. In fact, calling food art is quite common in today’s climate, although most of chefs who do so were referring to the artistry of its visual presentation. However, with the growing challenges on the meaning of art coming from the culinary world, came also big questions: how should art respond to such challenge?* And how will this affect the way we consume food? And how are we supposed to digest art food?

Quite the reverse, the rise of food science and artistry (or known as “foodism”) among societies across the world didn’t get all quite the welcome. One came from the late Andy Rooney, the famous CBS’s 60 Minutes commentator, who shared his not liking of it, “I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.”

Well, whether you like it or not, people are taking more care over what they put in their stomachs. In this case, perhaps “art” would be a healthy one?


*Serrano Sianturi

Chef Ferran Adrià and the problem of calling food art

by Jason Farago

(BBC, New York) Downtown New York has no shortage of impressive restaurants, but this month the most famous chef in the world won’t be cooking at all. The Drawing Center, a small but important institution in SoHo, is devoting its galleries to an exhibition of the work of Ferran Adrià – the Catalan trailblazer whose restaurant El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava became a pilgrimage site for gourmands worldwide in the last decade. Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity brings together sketches, charts, diagrams, shopping lists and messily scribbled notes, plus a video that cycles through the nearly 2,000 strange, at times baroque, dishes prepared at El Bulli over the years, such as licorice nitro-dragon, or smoke foam. You may or may not leave inspired, but you will leave hungry.

This is the first exhibition ever devoted to Adrià by an arts institution, and the show argues that drawing played a key role in the development of his innovative cuisine. (It opens on 25 January and will travel to Los Angeles, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Maastricht.) But the show demonstrates Adrià is an artist, and that his work at El Bulli transcended mere hospitality and achieved a higher, greater status.

Did it? It’s hard to say – but either way, the shifting terms by which we judge that question say something important, and maybe not very positive, about food and art.

El Bulli was voted the best in the world by Restaurant magazine five separate years, but Adrià never made any money from it. In fact, it operated at a substantial loss right up until the restaurant’s closure in 2011. He refused to hike prices even when two million diners were fighting for only 8,000 available meals per season. For the chef, money came through other avenues, from book sales to consulting, while the restaurant served other, more aesthetic aims. El Bulli, for Adrià, was less a restaurant than a laboratory and a studio.

According to his biographer, Colman Andrews, what was one of Adrià’s proudest moments was his inclusion in documenta, the prestigious once-every-five-years German art exhibition, as an artist. The distinction meant everything to him, while many critics and art professionals voiced confusion; the director of Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum branded Adrià’s inclusion as “dilletantish”. Either way, it got to something: Adrià has always had a gnawing hunger – I use the word advisedly – for artistic legitimacy, as if being known as the world’s best chef is somehow not enough. In 2009 Blake Gopnik, an incisive writer then at the Washington Post, travelled to Catalonia to eat at El Bulli. How did he get the nearly impossible reservation? Because he is an art critic; for us, Adrià would happily make space.

Feast or famine?

The relationship between art and food is a long one, and artists in the 20th Century have included cooking and eating in their practices. The Futurists in interwar Turin mounted over-the-top, deeply unpalatable banquets that replaced pasta with steel and sandpaper; the artists of Fluxus in 1960s New York held ‘eat-ins’ that featured only white dishes, or ten different flavoured mashed potatoes. Tastier stuff was to be found at Food, a restaurant founded in SoHo in 1971 by artist Gordon Matta-Clark, which was at once an artists’ canteen and an artwork itself. More recently the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiranavija, subject of an upcoming retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, has offered free meals in his exhibitions, encouraging conviviality among gallery-goers rather than quiet contemplation.

But the desire for chefs to declare themselves artists – more precisely, to brand their cooking not just artistic but actually art itself – is a newer thing. Earlier chefs such as François Vatel or Auguste Escoffier might have called themselves artists, but it’s important to unpack that term: it was used as a means to analogise their work to painting and sculpture, not as a claim that no distinction existed. The expansion of the boundaries of contemporary art, however, has let chefs such as Adrià say they aren’t just like artists, but are artists. And this has gone hand-in-hand with a boom in popularity for high-end cuisine, seen everywhere from Top Chef to the bookshops. When Nathan Myhrvold, a multimillionaire foodie with a taste for technology, published his 2,400-page Modernist Cuisine, at a list price of $625, his publisher deemed it a vanity project and only printed a few copies. It went on to become the most profitable cookbook of all time, and has generated – what else? – an art exhibit.

Hard to swallow

Can food be art? Maybe. The reasons food is increasingly being embraced as art are cause for concern and may even reflect something else: a shift in the boundaries of culture itself. As the writer Bill Deresiewicz has argued in The New York Times, in the last decade food has supplanted art and literature as the principal means by which urban professional classes establish their cultural bona fides. It’s now totally common for self-styled knowledgeable people to be clueless about Schiller and Strauss, yet be able to hold forth on the virtues of 12 different kinds of olive oil or distinguish allegedly superior Mexican Coca-Cola from its American cousin. The palate, not the intellect or the soul, has become the dominant authority. Pleasure, rather than insight or antagonism, is all we ask.

When a chef like Adrià is acclaimed as an artist, or when organic obsessives wax rhapsodic about the cultural virtues of turnips, it says we expect less from art than we used to, and food can do the rather small job as well, if not better, than a picture in a white cube. But in aspiring to the status of art, chefs unwittingly expose food’s own shallowness as a medium. Gopnik, the art critic, observed as much when he made his pilgrimage to the Costa Brava. El Bulli, he noted, offered him one of the greatest meals of his life. In artistic terms, however, it was “relatively tame, at least when compared with the most daring contemporary art…more charming and witty than deeply affecting.” I agree – but in an age when every inanity at the art fairs can be sold for six figures and gallery-goers will queue for eight hours to experience the New York MoMA’s daft Rain Room, maybe “charming and witty” is enough for us.

The better question than ‘Is Adrià an artist?’ may be this: what does it say about our expectations of art if food can meet them so easily? Rather than rehashing a tired debate about the boundary between art and cooking, it seems far more profitable to advocate for higher standards in artistic achievement, and to recognise that sensory pleasures need not be art to be worthwhile.

I felt that myself in Catalonia recently. Though I never made it to El Bulli, a few months ago I did have the chance to eat at El Celler de Can Roca, about an hour’s drive away, which now wears El Bulli’s former Restaurant magazine mantle as the ‘world’s best’. My meal there was a four-hour, twenty-course voyage that stirred, surprised, comforted and thrilled me by turns. It did so not through the theatrical gluttony of Adrià’s laboratory experiments, but through a sensitivity and warmth I’ve never felt in any other restaurant. It was not art – and it was fabulous.