Grocery shopping is a chore most days, but on Saturday, the routine task will become the subject of the Ulrich Museum of Art’s first exhibit of the year.
The museum at Wichita State University will open “Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisles” with a party at the museum on Saturday. The exhibit includes works from 16 artists who use the grocery store and its multitude of products as subjects to examine our relationship with food consumption.
“The exhibit examines this universal experience from an art standpoint,” said Teresa Veazey, the museum’s interim director. “It’s fun, colorful and unusual. How many art exhibits are out there about something that is so basic? These artists have really livened up the experience to make it interesting.”
Emily Stamey, the show’s curator, noted that the exhibit has a historic anchor in the pop art movement of the 1960s. Images of Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans or Brillo soap pad boxes typically come to mind when thinking of consumer-based art. Two of Warhol’s prints, one from the museum’s collection and one borrowed from the Wichita Art Museum, will be on display, but the other works are current.
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“Though the pop artists weren’t making any kind of overt political statement or making statements about food culture, they were working at this moment when you had this shift,” Stamey said. “There was a mass production of food, gravitation to the big supermarkets, and suddenly TV dinners and fast food became the norm. It was this huge cultural shift in terms of how the country thought about food and grocery shopping. These contemporary artists are stylistically working in that same manner. Their work reflects that we are at another key moment where how we think of our food is rapidly evolving.”
Images in the show examine a myriad of issues surrounding contemporary food consumption. Though not political, the artists are aware of the discourse that surrounds the discussion of food. Stamey said books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and issues such as the reauthorization of the farm bill were on her mind as she was putting the show together.
The works displayed take on a variety of shapes and styles. Many are humorous in nature, while others are more serious. Bar codes that are used for checkout, shopping lists, coupons and packaged frozen foods that are distinctly disconnected from their origins are among the subject matters. Also explored is the rise of super stores, the simplicity of small grocers, and the phenomenon of ethnic markets as a cultural gathering point. The aim is to explore something that we take for granted while starting a dialogue that is surprisingly complex, Stamey said.
“There are so many points of conversation. You can talk about nutrition, the environment, the community,” Stamey said. “Grocery shopping is something we all do. Some are going to Fresh Market to buy imported French cheese and some are going to discounted stores with food stamps. We’re all doing the same thing, though. We all make a list. We all have to go and get food.”
Veazey said the gallery exhibition is just part of that conversation and notes that several programs are planned to coincide with it after the opening party. Among them: Christin J. Mamiya will give a talk about the history of pop art and consumerism on Jan. 31, chef Tanya Tandoc will lead a culinary field trip to local ethnic grocery stores on Feb. 9, and Stamey will host a panel on the topic of food deserts on March 28.
“People will walk out of this show having enjoyed it,” Stamey said. “It will really resonate the next time you go to a grocery store. You’ll look at the shopping experience a bit differently.”