The Ingredients In The MoMA Artists' Cookbook

Seriously, where do they find this stuff? In the 25th issue of the inimitable Cabinet Magazine, Jeffrey Kastner has a few tasty excerpts from The Museum of Modern Art Artists' Cookbook, by Madeleine Conway and Nancy Kirk, published in 1977.

The day I got my magazine, I quickly ordered one of the few copies of the cookbook I found online [Abebooks, the Museum edition is much more expensive, but the spiral bound trade edition seems easier to cook from.]

Definitely read Kastner's piece for some great quotes about food and meals from various artists, including some who are still household names, and others who are decidedly not. The book is as quaintly provincial as you'd expect, a fascinating time capsule of circa 1970's culinary sophistication.

Will Barnett enthuses over "a small shop on Spring Street where they make the best bread in the world." Louise Bourgeouis likes to entertain after the galleries close and before the jazz clubs open, serving foods "that are largely unfamiliar to most Americans but are a delicacy in her native France," such as endive and fennel. Helen Frankenthaler worries where in the city to get red lettuce from California. Alex and Ada Katz have a thing for fresh chanterelles, "the essence of conspicuous consumption." So many things that have since been thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream of American food, whether by expansions of taste or distribution.

The other thing that caught my eye is the mix and age of the artists included in the book. It's unrealistic to judge a museum's curatorial program by the cookbooks it publishes. If it the list of recipe contributors is indicative of anything, it's probably the social networks of the authors and who they could get to respond to their solicitation.

Still as I scan the list of recipe contributors, who the subtitle bills as "thirty contemporary painters and sculptors," I can't help but think of The Modern's ongoing relationship with the contemporary art world, which has come under increased criticism the last few years.

There's a definite New York-centricity to the list. And the youngest artist included, Red Grooms, was 40 years old at the time, born in 1937. [The next youngest is Richard Estes (1936).] Were younger artists in their 30's--like Nauman, Serra, Marden, Elizabeth Murray, for example--not on MoMA's speed dial at the time? What about artists not included, Pop artists like Rauschenberg and Johns, or Minimalists Flavin, Judd, or Morris?

Between the middle age and the omissions, I can't help but wonder if MoMA's complicated, incomplete, and variably unsatisfactory interactions with the art of the moment isn't a new phenomenon brought on, supposedly, by corporatization, but something persistent, recurring, endemic? I've read interview transcripts of Robert Smithson and Allan Kaprow inveighing against Bill Paley and his CBS friends at the museum.

But isn't rebelling against authority what the kids in any era do? Just as longing for the good old days is a pasttime for the aging/aged? These kinds of cultural criticisms resist self-awareness. But by comparing snapshots of the past to the present, we can see how and where our cultural constructs have changed. At least 12 of the artists in MoMA's 1977 cookbook--Indiana, Grooms--have receded from the current art world dialogue; the names of some, like Raphael Soyer, Audrey Flack or Ernest Trova, would draw blank stares from most of the art-engaging world today. Meanwhile, endive and arugula are available at McDonald's.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: May 6, 2007.

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