This past weekend, the Ulrich Museum opened their newest exhibition Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisles.
This exhibition is Dr. Emily Stamey’s final show, and she left Wichita with a true gem. For Dr. Stamey, Stocked is a culmination of three years of research-- and several more of personal interest-- in food production, distribution, marketing and consumption. She married this interest with her scholarly background in Pop Art for an exhibition that is accessible, engaging and challenging-- a hard chord to strike.
Stocked is also a timely show, as our country takes on new concerns toward food. How was our food grown? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Or not go? But these questions just scratch the surface of cultural discourse explored by the artists featured in Stocked.
Scott Blake’s "I Am What I Eat" consists of 32 canvases of meticulously hand-painted bar codes. The number and size of the canvases harks back to Andy Warhol’s original 32 Campbell’s Soup can paintings. But Blake’s canvases offer more of a personal portrait, accomplished by using one of the most impersonal, ubiquitous symbols of contemporary life, which raises questions about the interests of big businesses and tracking.
British artist Damian Hirst occupies the back wall with his large print series The Last Supper, in which common British fare is presented in the format of prescription drug labels. While seeing a label for 400 milligram tablets of steak and kidneys is, at first, humorous, the darker undertow of these works draws out questions on the use and abuse of food, similar to prescription drugs.
Themed exhibitions always run the risk of cramming ill-fitting artwork into the desired theme or homogenizing the practices and intents of artists into a single goal. But Dr. Stamey’s curating has none of this. Instead, she executes a level of curatorial prowess that makes the show feel effortless, as if these objects were fated to share the same space.
Stocked is accompanied by an exquisite catalog that includes a commission by Kansas photographer Larry Schwarm. After the show closes, it goes on national tour-- but while it’s here, this stunning exhibition provides much food for thought.