Interpreting the Work of Sandy Skoglund:
Food as an Art Medium
Department of Art Education
Ohio State University and
Getty Center for Education in the Arts
The following are prompts for getting learners involved in discussions of
Sandy Skoglund's photographs, particularly those for which she used
food as her primary expressive, artistic medium. The prompts are meant
to help you and your students engage in inquiry-based art criticism,
especially interpretive criticism, of Skoglund's work so that your students
learn more about art criticism, the work of a contemporary artist, and
contemporary art in general. Please try these activities yourself and with
your students, invent others for these images, and tell all of us about
what you are doing. We hope that you will share your own and your
students' best comments and reactions by sending an e-mail message to
ArtsEdNet Talk, the e-mail discussion group: artsednet.
In 1978 Sandy Skoglund photographed frozen peas on a plate, canned
corn on two plates, and seven chocolate-iced cookies on one plate. In
the 1990s she used raw hamburger, strips of raw bacon, cheese
snacks, strawberry jam and orange marmalade, chewed chewing gum,
and raisins as art media in six different installations.
Consider the following questions about this unusual practice of using
food instead of traditional art media.
How does the particular food item the artist chose for the individual
photographs affect their meaning?
How does her use of food compare to use of traditional art media?
What practical problems would the foods present to the artist? to a
museum curator who needs to think about preservation and
conservation? to a collector?
Think about these questions with the following installations:
The Cocktail Party
Spirituality in the Flesh
What other contemporary artists besides Skoglund have used food as an
What other contemporary artists other than Skoglund have used food as
an art medium?
Art critic Jude Schwendenwien (Sculpture Magazine
November-December 1992) writes about several contemporary
sculptors, including Sandy Skoglund, who create art from food. Among
the artists he discusses are:
Lynn Aldrich, "Bread Line," sliced bread, 35 feet long, 1991.
Aldrich created "Bread Line" at an abandoned bakery in Chapman Market
in Los Angeles. The piece consists of bread slices from 45 loaves of
bread (white, dark, pumpernickel) laid in a single line across the floor of
the former industrial bakery. Schwendenwien remarks that Aldrich has
always been interested in accumulation of materials and that it
represents a double meaning: "On one hand, it represents a primal sense
of safety, both as a stockpile of food in case of emergency, and as an
emotional crutch. On the other hand, such an abundance of food cannot
possibly be eaten before it begins to rot. In abundance there is implicit
Doug Hammett, "Finger Licks," vanilla and chocolate frosting and
stretcher bar, 72 x 6 x 3 inches.
Doug Hammett, an artist living in Los Angeles, uses cake frosting as an
important medium in his sculptures. In "Finger Licks" Hammett took a
stretcher bar that one would use as part of a painting frame and covered
it entirely with creamy vanilla and chocolate cake frosting. He then ran
his finger down the entire length to comment on the "artist's signature."
Hammett, explains Schwendenwien, began working with food on a
whim, but has become more involved with parallel notions of food
consumption and art consumption. The artist remarks, "I always want the
dessert, before the food...[But] it's so out of touch to think that anyone
could live on cake, just as the notion that someone could live on the
conceptual [in art] is so ridiculous."
Janine Antoni, "Chocolate Gnaw," 600 pounds of chocolate before biting,
Antoni addresses compulsive relationships to food. She creates her
recent sculptures from mounds of pre-chewed chocolate and lard.
"Gnaw" is a mound of 600 pounds of chocolate resting on a low marble
stand. Antoni chews off pieces of the chocolate block and makes
lipsticks and heart shaped candies from it. Schwendenwien writes:
"These compelling but disgusting objects simultaneously shatter all the
romantic association of chocolates as gifts of affection while serving as
succinct monuments to the devastating conditions stemming from low
self-esteem and emotional deprivation, for which food becomes a
Antoni's sculpture has affinities with Skoglund's use of chewing gum in
Germs are Everywhere. For this installation, Skoglund chewed
thousands of sticks of chewing gum. She soaked the gum in trays of
water to soften it and then chewed each stick twice before using epoxy
to affix it in the installation. It was very important to Skoglund that the gum
retain her own teeth marks; thus she had to chew each piece herself.
This is not unlike Hammett's "signature" in the cake frosting or the
traditional idea of the "mark of the artist" in paintings on canvas.
What cultural connections can be made between Sandy Skoglund's
installations and American attitudes toward, beliefs about, and uses of
Americans and others living in wealthy nations have an
overabundance of food while others around the world are starving.
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are rampant
among young women in the United States and other wealthy nations.
Women are obsessed with weight loss. The latest diets proliferate on
the covers of magazine publications.
Television talk shows engage guests in frank discussions about
weight problems. Oprah Winfrey's struggle with weight control is a
frequent topic of discussion in tabloids.
Food has psychological and emotional meanings; for example, we
speak of "comfort food." For many people, food is an emotional nutrient.
"Junk food" is a modern American phenomena and is spreading
"Fast food" produced by food chains such as McDonald's, Burger
King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are in many international cities.