Amuse-bouche. The Taste of Art
Museum Tinguely, Basel
May 12 – July 26, 2020
Does art taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty or even umami? What role does our sense of taste play as an artistic material and in our social interactions? Museum Tinguely continues its series on the human senses in the arts that began with “Belle Haleine” (2015) and “Prière de toucher” (2016). The group exhibition “Amuse-bouche. The Taste of Art” (12 May – 26 July 2020) presents artworks by some forty-five international artists from the Baroque period to the present, all of which explore our sense of taste as a dimension of aesthetic perception. Breaking with the usual museum practice of appealing primarily to the sense of sight, the show offers a range of art-historical and phenomenological encounters with our sense of taste. Several of the works can be experienced in a participatory way and even sampled as part of our special tours, workshops and performances.
In traditional accounts of the senses, taste is predicated on direct physical contact. We perceive the world around us in all its diversity through the physical sensation of taste in the mouth and on the tongue. The concept and itinerary of the exhibition “Amuse-bouche. The Taste of Art“ focuses on those basic tastes we can perceive with our sensory apparatus: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami – a term coined in 1908 by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda that is commonly translated into English as ‘savoury’. The exhibition at Museum Tinguely poses a number of questions concerning various aspects of our gustatory experience: How do we perceive art made of edible materials and their specific nuances of taste? What happens when our mouth and tongue suddenly take centre stage in the art experience? Can artworks address the sense of taste even when the viewer has no direct physical contact with them? Can gustatory experiences be described and translated into pictures? Can flavour serve as a medium of artistic expression and creativity? The show includes allegorical depictions of the sense of taste by Baroque masters, works by avant-garde artists of the early 20th century and exhibits from the 1960s and ’70s. The main focus is on a representative selection of paintings, photographs, sculptures, video works and installations from the past thirty years, all of which address the ingestion and tasting of food in a variety of ways. In these works, the artists use foodstuffs and natural materials to lend flavours different forms. Visitors therefore get to sample the edible plants in the “Hortus Deiliciarum”, an installation and performance-based project by the Portuguese artist Marisa Benjamim, as well as the vegetal essences of “Tastescape”, a project by the Swiss artist Claudia Vogel. “Goosebump”, a monumental participatory work made of gingerbread cookies by the Australian artist Elizabeth Willing, can also be tasted. Current sociopolitical issues are also addressed in the various works that deal with the ‘taste of nature’ or the ‘taste of foreignness’. Art works and performance concepts like “Contained Measures of a Kolanut” by Otobong Nkanga open up a world of unknown, forgotten, new or naturalized flavours, which are often intricately bound up with personal and cultural identities as well as gustatory preferences. The Berlin-based Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh is also interested in explosive sociopolitical subjects relating to the taste of foreignness, as in the new Basel edition of his on-going project “Sufferhead Original”, in which he asks the question: “Who’s afraid of black?”.
Some of the works in the show are nevertheless ‘without taste’ and liable to trick our sensory perceptions. Any one flavour can be sweet as sugar and very much to our taste or it may repulse us, prompting nausea and revulsion. In common parlance, ‘taste’ covers a wide range of coded meanings. In the ‘sweet’ section of the exhibition, visitors encounter both subtle and radical changes in taste just as they do in real life. Since these are experienced differently from individual to individual, even works made of pure sugar can be rated as anything from ‘pleasantly sweet’ to unpleasantly ‘bitter-sweet’. One good example of this are the minimalist pieces by the Yugoslavian conceptual artist Mladen Stilinovic, who uses sugar as an artistic medium. Whereas at first, visitors experience a seductive sweetness, this actually turns out to be way off the mark. For the artist who realised these works in the early 1990s during the war in Croatia, the white monochrome symbolises emptiness, loss and pain. The ‘bitter’ section, by contrast, assembles exhibits that turn on the theme of disgust and the natural process of decay and decomposition, many of them through their use of perishable materials. The bitterness and toxins in this section are clearly pointers to death.
Touring the exhibition we also encounter ‘gustatory illusions’. Our sense of taste’s capacity for deception fascinated even many of the avant-garde artists of the early 20th century, among them the Italian Futurists and the Surrealists. “Amuse-bouche” therefore dedicates a whole section to Daniel Spoerri, the founder of Eat Art in the early 1960s, who engages with the tricks and deceptions of our sense of taste. Thus he deliberately tracks down the arcane, the inverted and the abnormal in order to play with our familiar view of things and cast doubt on long-held assumptions. Here, the palate is played off against the eye. His latest experiment, “Nur Geschmack anstatt Essen” (Tasting, Not Eating) is a four-course meal, whose principal aim is to confuse the visitors.
The show features works by the artists Sonja Alhäuser, Farah Al Qasimi, Janine Antoni, Marisa Benjamin, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Pol Bury, Costantino Ciervo, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Bea de Visser, Marcel Duchamp, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Urs Fischer, Fischli/Weiss, Karl Gerstner, Damien Hirst, Roelof Louw, Sarah Lucas, Opavivarâ!, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Cildo Meireles, Alexandra Meyer, Antonio Miralda-Dorothée Selz, Nicolas Momein, Anca Munteanu Rimnic, Otobong Nkanga, Emeka Ogboh, Dennis Oppenheim, Meret Oppenheim, Tobias Rehberger, Torbjørn Rødland, Dieter Roth, Roman Signer, Cindy Sherman, Shimabuku, Slavs and Tatars, Daniel Spoerri, Mladen Stilinovic, Sam Taylor-Johnson, André Thomkins, Jorinde Voigt, Claudia Vogel, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Elizabeth Willing, Erwin Wurm, Rémy Zaugg. Curator of the exhibition: Annja Müller-Alsbach.