Exhibition Review: Food Still Lifes at the Ryan Lee Gallery
By Kathryn Kearney
The seventies consumer culture is profound. It set the precedent for the nation’s marketing industry-- loud colors, bold prints, inviting patterns and big font drew the attention of people across the country to buy, buy, buy. Food advertisements featured strategic arrangements of different meals. The layout of these ads was traditional and American photographer, Sandy Skoglund in her 1978 series, Food Still Lifes, considered the staging and arranging of both traditional still life compositions of all sorts of food.
Each still life in this series of photographs was strategically shot, depicting a precise arrangement of the processed food that Skoglund took the time to study. Food Still Lifes includes photographs of canned meat, vegetables, cake, and cookies. Behind all of these items, is a piece of evocatively patterned contact paper that mimics the patterns of the food being shot. All of the contact papers used by Skoglund are bright, resembling the ads of consumer culture during this era.
Skoglund fills the frame of these photographs with these contact papers which creates an array of sensations while observing. This perspectival distortion makes for an interesting experience as certain foods seem to move back and forth while others buzz.
In “Peas on a Plate”, Skoglund places a red polka-dotted dish with peas organized in the shape of a diamond. She put the plate on top of a wild contact paper that adds the movement dimension to this piece. The red in the plate is carried over into the background-- a grid of alternating red, black, and yellow squares. The spherical shape of the peas is repeated in the polka dots on the contact paper and in association with the colors, you are sure to feel as though this plate is not stationary.
The universality of food consumption motivated Skoglund to really invest herself in the project. It is ubiquitous and Skoglund aptly claimed, “after all, everyone eats.” Intrigued by the commercial food industry’s manipulation of its products through advertisements which wouldn’t have been possible without photography, Skoglund thought this project serves as a derisive commentary on that trade. Skoglund’s characteristic combinations in this series of photographs has different layers— all of which make for an inclusive show.