Food as art, or pie in the sky?

By Stephen Pollard
May 17, 2007

I have a piece in the Times, here, about the Spanish chef, Ferran Adria, being invited to 'exhibit' at the five-yearly Documenta art show in Kassel, Germany. Here's an extract:

The invitation has, predictably, caused uproar in the art world. Jose de la Sota, art critic of El PaIs, put it this way: “Adria is not Picasso. Picasso did not know how to cook but he was better than Adria [at art]. What is art now? Is it something or nothing?”

He might indeed ask: many of us have been wondering for quite a while, when we see elephant dung, protest banners and piles of bricks winning art prizes. Clement Greenberg, the most influential critic of modern art, defined it as “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticise the discipline itself”. That seems to me as good a definition of Adria’s style of food as any I have read.

...Adria reacts to the criticism from the Spanish art establishment thus: “True, I am no Picasso, but what is art in times like these? Many people act as if I should apologise for participating. I am not going to. I understand there might be people who are annoyed. It’s tough to see a cook get invited to this. But what is art? If they want to call what I do art, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

Spot on. In an art world where anything seems to go, I can’t for the life of me see why Ferran Adria’s food, which fulfils every criterion of modern art, should not take its place alongside the likes of Tracey Emin.

Come to think of it, shouldn’t it be the woman whose contribution to art is an unmade bed whose place in the exhibition should be in question? Why is that art, but Adria’s not? The food at El Bulli is certainly a lot more elevating to look at.


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