Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

BMA exhibit turns moldy food into art

By NATALIE BERKMAN | December 3, 2008

In the Front Room of the Baltimore Museum of Art, one can peruse the collection of Dieter Roth and Rachel Harrison's works while listening to the background music of disembodied lips moaning which carries from an adjoining room.

The two artists on display in the Front Room have captured similar ideas in photographs, drawings and sculptures, which will be on display until January. Dieter Roth, a German artist born in 1930, and Rachel Harrison, an American artist born in 1966, are about as different as two individuals can be. Still, both portray similar themes within their artwork and are inspired by everyday life.

Roth, who grew up in the midst of the Second World War and spent much of his childhood in Switzerland with Jewish and communist artists and actors, is a true modern artist. His paintings, photographs and screen prints are inspired by everything - rotting food to postcards to sports.

As for Harrison, she is a New York City native who studied at Wesleyan University, and her artwork has been featured in New York, San Francisco, Glasgow, Norway, Toronto and other hot spots. Although she has obviously had some different experiences than Roth, she is also inspired by the ordinary, which is why the majority of her untitled works currently displayed at the Baltimore Museum of Art are items one can see every day.

Six of Dieter Roth's "96 Piccadillies" are among those works in the Front Room collection. These screen prints were not only inspired by a perfectly ordinary object (a postcard) but they are also painted over the original picture on the postcard. Each of the six emphasizes a different aspect of the picture of London's Piccadilly Circus.

The first looked as though all the buildings had been white-washed, the second had different colored dots on top of everything, the third was mostly yellow, the fourth was much darker than the first few, the fifth was bold and colorful and the final one was unrecognizable, all black except for three neon green double-decker buses.

These six paintings were an interesting and distorted way to look at the world. Roth's other paintings in the Front Room are basically moldy food: "Chocolatewafer Picture" shows a chocolate wafer becoming soggy due to curdled milk all together in a plastic sleeve, while "Big Landscape" is just "cheese on roofing felt, encapsulated into plastic," as the sign says.

Rachel Harrison's works are just as stunning. The first thing one notices when entering the room is her sculpture, "Sunday Morning." Basically, it is a big, pink wooden box on wheels with a picture hanging from it. It steals the spotlight, but mostly because it seems out of place.

Harrison also has six works hanging on the wall that match Roth's rotting food motif. The food she photographs is paired together in some strange and slightly sickening combinations: egg and ice cream, cinnamon sugar and batter, croutons and a cinnapretzel and a pretzel and mozzarella. Since none of the "chromogenic color prints" were titled, it is difficult to articulate their purpose.

Overall, the art of these contemporary artists will make you step back and scratch your head. It is a free museum, however, so have a look. The artists have successfully transformed objects people see every day into visually intriguing works of art.

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