If you walk into the Smart Museum’s lobby during the next four months, you might be accosted by a University of Chicago student offering jam—specifically, slatko, a fruit preserve given to visitors in Serbian homes. Artist Ana Prvacki adapted this family tradition for her project The Greeting Committee, part of the Smart’s new exhibition “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” which is on view through June 10.
“The idea is that you take a spoon of the jam as a welcome, as a way to sweeten your visit, and also—so Ana tells me—as a way to sweeten your tongue, so you don’t gossip afterwards,” says Stephanie Smith, the Smart’s deputy director and chief curator.
Chronologically, “Feast” begins with the 1930 Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, penned by Italian artists and agitators who condemned pasta and dreamed of the day when their fellow citizens would eat their meals in pill form. But most of the show’s 30-plus artists and collectives, who range from Gordon Matta-Clark to Rirkrit Tiravanija, treat the meal as a force for positive social engagement.
According to Smith, “They speak to these basic human desires that we have: to be together around a table, sharing an experience that can bring us into contact with something or someone we don’t already know.” “Feast” includes an astonishing number of artworks that require audience participation . (Some are open to all visitors; for others, the Smart chooses participants by lottery. Visit smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/join-the-feast for details.) Here are two of my favorites:
Tom Marioni, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art One night each month, visitors can enjoy free beer at a wooden bar that Marioni designed as part of his one-room installation. The San Francisco–based artist tells me he began developing this piece in 1970, drawing on his childhood in Cincinnati, “a German beer town,” as well as his stint as a Catholic altar boy, the Japanese tea ceremony and his experiences drinking beer and hanging out with friends in art school. “It’s a ritual, so the beer is like sacramental wine,” Marioni says. On March 1, his guest bartenders will be Museum of Contemporary Art director Madeleine Grynsztejn and Smart director Anthony Hirschel.
Alison Knowles, Identical Lunch Symphony In 1968, every time Knowles ate at a certain restaurant near her Chelsea studio, the Fluxus artist ordered the same lunch: a tuna fish sandwich with butter and lettuce but no mayonnaise, accompanied by a glass of buttermilk. Knowles composed a typically Fluxus event score for the meal, and has invited the public to help her perform Identical Lunch around the world ever since. Artist George Maciunas’s variation, which places the lunch’s components in a blender, inspired the multi-blender performance that she leads May 5. Knowles says the mundanity of Identical Lunch is what makes it interesting. “It’s featuring the beauty of everyday choices and everyday people.”
While “Feast” emphasizes community, Smith warns me not to assume projects like Prvacki’s are “touchy-feely.” The Greeting Committee taps into what the curator calls “the dark side of hospitality.” Laughing, Smith says, “There’s a kind of controlling in it. It’s like, ‘Ha, ha, you’ve tasted the jam, and now you may not say anything bad about the show when you leave.’ ”