Food-themed Art of Salvador Dali, René Magritte & Others Celebrates Gastronomy in a Surrealist Banquet

Simulated environment of a fantastical dining room at center of A Surrealist Banquet at Di Donna Gallery in NYC

René Magritte’s L’Explication (1962): the magical transformation of a wine bottle into a carrot-like object and below his La Pensée visible (1961): a musical apple

Food-themed artwork displayed on & above a fireplace mantle including Man Ray’s Péchage (1969), an oil and cotton assemblage in wood box of 3 fuzzy peaches & Giorgio De Chirico’s Natura morta con ananas (1926), an oil on canvas centered around a pineapple

In Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan (1979), his alter-ego protagonist Issac (a divorced television writer) ponders what makes life worth living? Issac’s full list: Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the 2nd movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong’s Potato Head Blues, Swedish movies, Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, those incredible Apples and Pears by Paul Cezanne, the crabs at Sam Wo’s, and (perhaps most important for the movie’s plot line) his teen-age companion Tracy’s face. (Of course, off the movie screen, any such list would have to include clean food, clean air and clean water!)

Nevertheless, Isaac’s reference to the paintings of pears and apples by French post-impressionist Paul Cezanne has stuck in my mind over the years. An image on-line of Cezanne’s Still Life with Apples and Pears (ca. 1891-92) in the collection of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art evidences Cezanne’s artistic achievement in depicting apples and pears in oil paints on an artist’s canvas. The linked web page for the Metropolitan’s image of the Cezanne’s still-life also includes an insightful explanation:

Cézanne once proclaimed, ‘With an apple I want to astonish Paris,’ and he succeeded, even in his most deceptively simple still lifes, to dazzle and delight. Turning to the Provençal apples and Beurré Diel pears grown in the vicinity of the family’s estate near Aix, he dispensed with traditional one-point perspective and examined the fruit, plates, and table from various viewpoints—straight on, above, and sideways. 

As a backyard gardener of many decades, this reviewer has long appreciated the magic of digging up a carrot hidden in the soil’s richness. And it was a pleasant surprise that Cezanne’s paintings of pears and apples, which capture the magic, complexity and  wonder of nature, were included in a movie character’s list of what makes life worth living.

A few years ago, the exhibit Art and Appetite: American Art Inspired by Food (curated by the Art Institute of Chicago) with paintings on loan from 25 collections throughout the United States, was shown in Chicago and Fort Worth, and as noted in our review, examined 250 years of American art, from the agricultural bounty of the ‘new world’ to Victorian-era excess, debates over temperance, the rise of restaurants and café culture, and the changes wrought by 20th-century mass production. A current exhibit, assembled by the Manhattan art gallery, Di Donna, located at 744 Madison Avenue in NYC, complements beautifully this earlier look at depiction of food in art.

The Di Donna gallery’s exhibit includes more than 50 pieces of food-themed American as well as European art as interpreted from the perspective of mainly Surrealist artists, who disdained realism and sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much of the art on display is arranged around a dining table. Salvador Dali’s assemblage of painted and gilded bronze and mixed media (Buste de femme rétrospectif, 1977) of a nude female mannequin balancing a baguette on her head with two corn cobs hanging around her neck sets the tone. Notes from the gallery’s guide to the 53 artworks interpret provocatively this Dali creation as “a direct representation of Dali’s investigations into themes of desire, memory, and repulsion.” But how to explain Dali’s mixed media artwork (Téléphone homard, circa 1977) where a telephone has become a lobster?

René Magritte’s still-life (L’Explication, 1962) on a nearby wall of two wine bottles, one in the process of transformation into a carrot, stimulates the mind and contrasts sharply with American artist Wayne Thiebaud’s simple watercolor on paper (Cheese and Olive Sandwich, 1964) which transforms a simple sandwich on white bread into “fine art.” Other stimulating artwork on display includes food-themed creations by Claes Oldenburg, Man Ray, Giorgio De Chirico, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall. If NYC is within convenient traveling distance, a visit to view this magical show is highly recommended.

A Surrealist Banquet, Mon-Fri 10:00AM-6:00PM (May 11-June 2, 2011) Di Donna Gallery, 744 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
Clicking on the photos illustrating this review will enlarge them for better viewing of the artwork.

(Frank W. Barrie, 5/25/17)

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