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An artist-chef, in reverse: Ferran Adrià at the Nelson

KC artist Sean Starowitz takes in a unique exhibit

The 'work in this exhibition was not meant for a museum but for the function of a successful, exclusive restaurant.' (Photo: Sean Starowitz/Flatland)
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In recent years, numerous exhibitions and shows have explored the role of the artist using food. Not often do we see the reverse: a chef using various forms of artistic practice to run a restaurant.

“Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity,” on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through Aug. 2, successfully showcases the process of a master chef, but it may leave you with an unfamiliar taste.

Most often, chefs are “showcased” for mere catering experiences, which tend to be typical, uninspired and counter-productive. “Notes on Creativity” gives us insight into the need, benefit and function of the creative process on the job, whether it’s a master chef’s doodle on a piece of paper, a plasticine mold to properly show scale or various rigged instruments to complete a plated course. The exhibition allows the audience to take in various creative tasks that we all use in our own daily work or production. Whether an artist or not, anyone who has worked a “straight gig” can relate to the importance of visual language and its function in solving complex, everyday tasks.

The Nelson exhibition provides "a break in the over-consumption of the visual economy of food culture." (Photo: Sean Starowitz/Flatland)

The Nelson exhibition provides “a break in the over-consumption of the visual economy of food culture.” (Photo: Sean Starowitz/Flatland)

While the drawings and illustrations are a bit sophomoric, I had to remind myself that the work in this exhibition was not meant for a museum but for the function of a successful, exclusive restaurant. At a certain point, Adria started signing and dating his own work, leaving an uncomfortable taste. To use Adria’s own words from a recent lecture at the Nelson, “Ego replaces ethics.”

‘Notes on Creativity’ gives us insight into the need, benefit and function of the creative process on the job …

In our current culture of constantly documenting our experiences, the exhibition questions the responsibility of individuals to archive their actual work in a non-digital sense. I found the exhibition to be a break in the over-consumption of the visual economy of food culture. It was quite nice to see anonymous collaborative drawings and non social-media based imagery in the context of food; but at the sight of autographed images, I was painfully reminded of the rockstar-ego that our era embodies: the tracking of facebook “likes” and the double tapping on our mobile devices.

Regarding the exhibition, I’m less interested in its aesthetic quality or which part of the art history canon it is building upon, if any.

What fascinates me is the expanding role of the contemporary art museum. What are the true intentions of hosting exhibitions like this? elBulli, Adria’s exclusive Michelin-rated restaurant turned cultural center in Spain, is an elite experience, one of privilege and expense, much like most cultural institutions these days. Does this work speak beyond the Instagram foodies and individuals who can afford the farm-to-table dinners, or does this work truly embody, in the words of 19th century art critic John Ruskin, that “industry without art is brutality”?

Does this work speak beyond the Instagram foodies and individuals who can afford the farm-to-table dinners …?

Consider John Dewey’s “Art as Experience.” He writes: “Art is an intrinsic quality of activity, we cannot divide and subdivide it, we can only follow the differentiation of the activity into different modes as it impinges on different materials and employs different media.”

The word “art” is often used as a catch-all. And perhaps museums, institutions and artists need to be wary of the word itself.

Maybe we need to shift our vocabularies to look for, and provide space for, other creative practices, design tactics and esthetic experiences, much like that found in the process of cooking, running a business or dancing in a subway station.

Does Notes on Creativity explore the next phase of an atypical exhibition and the new role museums must take on? Or does it fall short of expectations in a trendy way, under the guise a famous chef and an elite cultural experience? Let us know your thoughts.

Sean M. Starowitz is a Kansas City artist who works in a variety of social, political, and community engaged contexts. His projects include Fresh Bread, BREAD! KC, and Byproduct: The Laundromat. He is currently the artist-in-residence at the Farm To Market Bread Company. 

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