Who doesn't like to eat? Host an event pertaining to food and you're sure to attract a crowd.
A record-number of 600 people attended the Westport Arts Center's Opening Reception of "Foodies" a few weeks ago. The Riverside Avenue gallery's outdoor deck was transformed into a bustling marketplace and six vendors provided delectable nibbles from sushi to melted cheese treats.
WAC also boasted record-breaking attendance at its weekly Arts Cafe. Since coming on board as head of visual arts, Helen Klisser During has blended a brilliant nosh of freshly baked scones and muffins with a guaranteed spirited discussion on the state of the arts in the gallery, via the New York Times Arts pages and globally. Marrying art and food together on a larger scale, in mixed media, including film, came seamlessly together as she produced "Foodies" this fall.
“Everybody is a 'foodie' and that's why the exhibit is titillating to the community,” explained Klisser. "Foodies" is one of WAC's members-only shows. From 200 submissions, 71 pieces--a significant amount--were chosen by a panel of judges hailing from various segments of the food industry. This was a novel approach. WAC's Director of Education Danielle Ogden said that though art historians and art connoisseurs and artists themselves typically comprise WAC's juries, "Foodies" called upon the expertise of four local folks who are directly involved with the preparation, aesthetics and production of food. They were Pat Callaghan, formerpresident of Pepperidge Farm; chef Michel Mischan, owner of Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant in Westport; Stew Leonard, Jr., owner of theeponymous 'World's Largest Dairy Store' and chef and restaurateur BillTaibe.
“These are people who really know this subject inside and out and areabsolutely consumed by the aesthetics of food,” explained During.
Like the personal preferences of our individual palates, "Foodies" contains diverse styles. There's a mix of whimsical, youthful, serious, somber and sassy and more. For example, Jane Sutherland oil painting depicts sensual, plump "Rainier Cherries,” while Larry Silver's photograph taken in front of an ice cream store where "Boardwalk Bench Spectators” nostalgically reminisce about summers in the city. "Foodies" represents both veteran artists, like Silver, along with emerging artists, such as Jill Sarver, who by day works as WAC's Visual Arts Assistant.
One of the more playful, albeit mischievous, pieces in the exhibit is Drew Klotz's “Banana Split." Or, am I, the viewer, reading too much into it? Is a banana sometimes just a banana? And, what about ice cream cones? Better yet, what about “Nuns and Cones,” an archival c-print, by Hank Paper, showing a few nuns, dressed in modern religious uniform for their order, casually walking by a fountain, perhaps in a park, eating ice cream cones. Why do I think that's just the teeniest bit naughty?
Art teaches us sometimes to expect the unexpected. We bring to it who we are, at that given moment. If we're in a more serious mode, we can dwell on the many lovely works produced by skilled craftsmen and women. If we are feeling silly, we may enjoy looking at something like Graham Honaker's "Happy Meal," where a fast food hamburger is melded with an airplane-size sample of vodka.
Art meets us where we are and invites us to feel, to think, to muse, to communicate. WAC's Executive Director Peter Van Heerden and Klisser view the gallery as a meeting place for the entire community to convene.
“What are on our walls arereally just prompts for thought and conversation,” said Klisser.
"Foodies" will be on exhibit until November 4th.
Related programs include Fall Foodies Cafe featuring lunch by Du Soleil, guest speakers and exciting dialogues on matters relating to our relationships to food. The programs are: Sept. 28, Food Policy with Nichel Nischan and Bill Taibe; October 10, Climate with Watts Wacker; Oct. 24, Nutrition with Jennifer Boyd and Claire Wilson, and Oct. 31, Local Food Production with Dina Brewster and Massimo Tulio. In collaboration with the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, WAC will host a Dinner Doodles Reception. The public is invited to view what their neighbors are drawing on napkins while they wait for their food to arrive at local restaurants. This event will take place on Wed., Oct. 17 at 6 pm.
“Let's Do Brunch!” --an Istanbul-themed meal and entertainment—is offered on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 10 am. The cost is $30. This program is sponsored with Moshe Aelyon and the Westport Downtown Merchants Association's “Downtown Westport Foodies Fest,” which takes place on Oct. 26, 27, and 28.
To celebrate the finale of “Foodies,” the film screening of Stanley Tucci's “Big Night” and a dinner presented by Mario Batali's Tarry Lodge of Westport will take place on Friday, November 2 at 6 pm. The cost is $60. For information about “Foodies,” call 203-222-7070 and go to www.westportartscenter.org.