Fallen Fruit Presents Let Them Eat LACMA, various artists, November 7, 2010
Marie Antoinette’s utterance of the phrase “Let them eat cake!” in response to complaints of hunger among the peasantry—a legendary act of royal ignorance and privilege—was said to have ushered in the French Revolution. What many people don’t know is that this revolution then gave rise to the modern incarnation of the Louvre—the world’s first truly public museum. Other proto-museums dating back to ancient times were often accessible only to the middle and upper classes, and had very limited visiting hours. At the Louvre, the French royal collections were for the first time made available for viewing by all members of the public on a regular basis. The Louvre paved the way for all the public museums we know and love today.
It’s enlightening and amusing to keep this history in mind when considering Let Them Eat LACMA, a one-day takeover of LA’s largest public museum by over 50 artists and artist collectives. In a case of cyclical re-invention, museums have spent the last decade or two battling against their 19th-century image as a stiff, stodgy place where hallowed, untouchable objects reside for the quiet contemplation of the public. Allowing artists to have the run of the place, employing a variety of creative interventions to open up the site, is one strategy for loosening up, and it’s a strategy that’s working very well these days at both LACMA and the Hammer, another great public museum.
Having been organized by Fallen Fruit collective, whose entire raison d’être is the repurposing of food, the artist projects that populated the sprawling LACMA campus on Sunday truly spanned the gamut of the food spectrum and beyond, from horticultural efforts to food giveaways, food fights, food surveys, food displays, performances with and about food, and finally, a zine exploring the world of defecation. There was even a project that enabled you to literally “eat LACMA”—Emily Katrencik’s A Freedom Granted Is Not a Freedom Until It Is Expressed excised a square from one of LACMA’s walls and ground it up to make a sugar-based confection for visitors to eat.
It was an incredibly fun day that drew several thousand very enthusiastic people. The highlights for me were the performances that interacted closely with works of art from LACMA’s collection. These performances, which activated and enhanced the works as well as the spaces around them, felt like tasty and nutritious cultural food coursing through the veins of the museum, imbuing it with some unexpected new life forms.
The perennially fabulous Ann Magnuson, along with Jesse Merlin, did a funny and campy take on Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, with Magnuson’s Salomé in hot sexual pursuit of Merlin’s John the Baptist. They did several iterations of this performance; I caught the one that snaked in and out of Richard Serra’s massive and already rather theatrical Band sculpture on the ground floor of BCAM. The performers had the audience follow them through the curving rooms of the sculpture as Salomé chased her resistant object of desire. The hide-and-seek quality of this performance was enchanting, and also lent itself well to the final reveal, when Magnuson was discovered holding a prop severed head as she insisted, “I must kiss your mouth…” Another iteration, which I heard about from a friend, took place inside the European Galleries of the Ahmanson Building and ended with Magnuson puckering up to an actual portrait of John the Baptist (!).
Sean Griffin’s Parasitical Operas, featuring the lovely soprano Juliana Snapper, made clever use of Nas Quebradas, one of Hélio Oiticica’s Penetrable environments, intended to be activated by the penetration of the viewer. A short skit about the nature of parasitical organisms culminated in a beautiful aria recital that used the piece as a stage set.
Enjoy more gluttony below…