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Our Changing Perceptions of Food on Exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago

Doris Lee. Thanksgiving, c. 1935. Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund. Wayne Thiebaud. Salad, Sandwiches and Dessert, 1960. Lent by the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NAA–Thomas C. Woods Memorial. Art © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

The Art Institute of Chicago invites visitors to feast their eyes on 250 years of the rich tradition of food in American art in a major exhibition, Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine, currently running until January 27, 2014, in Regenstein Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit features famous paintings, including Norman Rockwell’s iconic Freedom from Want, as well as lesser-known but important works.

The new exhibit is an opportunity for visitors to explore how food connects people to each other and how that connection has changed over time. It explores the many meanings and interpretations of eating in America, with more than 100 paintings, sculptures and decorative arts to demonstrate how depictions of food have allowed American artists to both celebrate and critique everything from the national diet to society and politics.

Art and Appetite takes a new approach to American paintings of food, contextualizing them to rediscover the meanings they held for their makers and their public. The exhibit breaks with the traditional histories of the genre to explore how it illuminates American attitudes about patriotism and politics, identity and gender, progress and history, and production and consumption. It also examines the agricultural bounty of the New World, Victorian-era excess, debates over temperance, the rise of restaurants and café culture and the changes wrought by 20th-century mass production, including menus, cookbooks and advertisements.

Norman Rockwell. Freedom from Want, 1942. Lent by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust. © SEPS by Curtis Licensing. All Rights Reserved.
Norman Rockwell. Freedom from Want, 1942. Lent by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust. © SEPS by Curtis Licensing. All Rights Reserved.
Many artists used food pictures to serve up biting political commentary that addressed the social and economic transformations of the 1880s and 1890s. In the 20th century, new ways of eating and socializing such as restaurant dining began to change depictions of food in art. During the 1950s and 1960s, Pop artists addressed the ways in which mass production and consumption dramatically altered the American experience of food.

Today, as professional and home chefs increasingly turn toward local, organic food and American society ponders its history as a fast-food nation, this exhibition on the historical art of eating is highly relevant, offering visitors the chance to look at depictions of American food and culture with new meaning and fresh eyes.

From early American recipes like sheepes tongue pie and tomato soup cake to Graham Elliot’s seafood chowder and Tony and Cathy Mantuano’s turkey with grappa and gemolata, the museum also presents an accompanying online cookbook ( that celebrates Art and Appetite with more than 50 recipes to download—both classic American dishes and innovative new offerings from Chicago’s leading chefs.

Location: 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. For more information, visit