You don’t go far without thinking about food.

There’s Wegmans, Emeril on television, backyard tomatoes, a good glass of wine, McDonalds. Baby food, Snickers and fried zucchini. The perfectly-set dinner table and the compost heap. By definition, it’s a universal topic.

Enter the artists whose work appears in “Feasting Eyes: Artists Take on Food,” an exhibit beginning today at the Kenan Center in Lockport.

Twenty-three local artists, including many of the foremost names in Western New York’s orbit of painting, photography, video and sculpture, take on the issue of food in a remarkable presentation of 56 works that offers commentary on the way we relate to our gardens, our tables and all the stuff we consider sustenance (including Skittles and licorice). Far beyond still-life bowls of just-so arranged fruit, the Kenan Center has mounted a new look at a compelling subject and its relationship to 21st-century life.

There is, for example, Coni Minneci’s painting of a half-eaten pear in an homage to conceptual portrait photographer Cindy Sherman, part of a series of works Minneci did that honor women artists (four of which will be on display at the Kenan). The pear has been functional in still-lifes since the Renaissance, but not quite like this.

“The pear is a metaphor for my life and work,” she said, “and a reflection on Sherman’s ‘grotesque fairytale’ phase. Every pear tells a story.” It’s part of what she terms “landscapes and surrealism,” a classically posed piece of fruit with some ominous overtones.

In “38 Degrees of Separation,” Stefani Bardin offers the interior of a refrigerator and a six-minute video that tells its tale. Toronto artist Ryan Legassike sculpted “Real World,” with dinner plates fused to a table. Photographer Nancy Parisi’s “Hands with Scary Licorice” offers a threatening re-examination of what we put in our mouths.

One need not have an artist’s sensibilities to employ food as a touchstone. It can be a reference point in attitudes about politics, capitalism and environmental attitudes. There is symmetry and beauty in photographer Marion Fuller’s “St. Joseph’s Day Table, Cataract Lodge, Niagara Falls, NY” — a long table of traditional elements of feasting, at the moment before the celebrants sit down.

A different kind of beauty can be observed in John Pfahl’s photographs of his compost pile, wherein even scrap food becomes art, a diary of food as it turns into nutrient for more food.

Ah, food. You have your perspective, and they have theirs. James Paulsen presents his as an indictment of capitalism and of society’s insistence on attaching a monetary value to every element within it. His “Skittles” is precisely that, a brash depiction of the candy box, in the tradition of Pop Art and the advertising business, made over with the filigree found on the back of a dollar bill. Skittles, he points out, is also an inside joke, “the nickname for cold medicine used to get high.”

Curator Gerald Mead considers this collection “unique commentaries on our visual and physical relationship with something we quite literally need to survive.”

As such, the artists represented here offer a wide range of attitudes. There is food warm and inviting, like the portraiture by Kenmore artist Rita Argen Auerbach, balanced with food dangerous and unhealthy (see A J. Fries’ painting “Teeth and Donut”). For food of the future, refer to the mixed media installation “New Labels for Genetically Altered Foods” by Christy Rupp.

This exhibit of a social flashpoint started out by meditating on Niagara County in the autumn.

“We often have an exhibit focusing on gardens,” said Elaine Harrigan, Kenan’s marketing director. “We’re surrounded by farms and wineries, and it’s nearly fall, the harvest season. It’s an event wrapped around the local harvest.”

The artists have clearly put some thought into what we put into ourselves. The exhibit is full of startling perceptions about what we eat, how we obtain it and how it, quite literally, becomes us.

Ed Adamczyk is a freelance writer from Kenmore.



IF YOU GO

* WHAT: “Feasting Eyes: Artists Take On Food”

* WHERE: Kenan Center Gallery, 433 Locust Street, Lockport

* WHEN: Today through October 5. The gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (except August 30-31). Closed Labor Day. Gerald Mead will offer a curator’s talk at 2:30 p.m., Sept. 20.

* MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.kenancenter.org

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