Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Museums have increasingly been highlighting food, culinary, and dining history in their exhibition schedules. The upcoming months prove to be very exciting for those of us interested in such topics, as museums internationally have planned a wonderful array of exhibits. If your conference, research, or personal travel plans take you to any of the cities below, consider stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions, as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

Current Exhibitions

Feeding History: The Politics of Food

British Museum (London, UK), through 27 May 2019

Wooden model group of a butcher’s shop, Deir el-Bersha, Egypt, Middle Kingdom period. (London, British Museum)

The exhibition “Feeding History” at the British Museum focuses on five objects, exploring the relationship between food, power, and control. The display juxtaposes ancient and contemporary objects to explore issues surrounding food production and control of food resources. The focus of the display is a contemporary sculpture, Anti Social Wild West Weaving (c. 2000), by Native American artist Pat Courtney Gold. Her work represents the barbed-wire fences used on the North American prairies, simultaneously allowing settlers to claim the land for ranching and farming and restricting Native Americans from accessing their ancestral land. The four ancient objects include an Egyptian wooden plough handle (1550–1069 BC), an Egyptian model of butchers preparing meat (c. 1850 BC), a gilded silver vase with a grape harvesting scene (possibly from Iran, 500–700), and a Ming dynasty porcelain serving dish decorated with grapes (1403–1424). Through this combination of works, the exhibition explores the origins of farming and the inequality between the wealthy landowning minority and the impoverished working majority. Furthermore, the exhibition stresses that feeding the world is closely connected to issues of power, politics, and economics.

Feasting and Fasting: The Great Kitchen at Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral (Durham, UK), through 1 June 2019

Durham Cathedral’s museum experience, Open Treasure, currently features an exhibition, “Feasting and Fasting,” exploring the history of the Cathedral’s fourteenth-century Great Kitchen. The octagonal kitchen, completed in 1370, was active for over 570 years. It was the site of food preparations for everyone who lived and worked at the Cathedral; daily meals and grand feasts alike were prepared here. Visitors can learn about the food consumed by Benedictine monks of Durham Priory and discover what was eaten at the Cathedral’s lavish banquets. The highlights of “Feasting and Fasting” are the recipe collections on display, including the The Art of Cookery by John Thacker, cook to the Dean and Chapter from 1739–1758. After exploring the exhibit, visitors can continue through the museum into the Great Kitchen, which now houses the Anglo-Saxon Treasures of St. Cuthbert.

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Gaasbeek Castle (Lennik, Belgium), through 28 July 2019

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Nestled in the idyllic Belgian countryside, Gaasbeek Castle is home to a museum, park, and gardens. The Museum Garden alone may be of interest to Recipes Project readers: it contains many traditional and rare fruit and vegetable varietals, featuring espaliered fruits. The museum inside Gaasbeek Castle, however, is currently hosting an exhibition rooted in the work of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel. In “Feast of Fools,” visitors experience a series of contemporary and modern inspired by Bruegel. Among many other works, the exhibition presents a virtual reality installation by the Berlin-based theatre company, Rimini Protokoll, focused on the contemporary food industry titled “Feast of Food.” In his works, Bruegel depicted the farmers who fed local consumers. In the twenty-first century, Bruegel’s farmers have been replaced by high-tech agro-industries and most consumers now ignore the origins of their food. Rimini Protokoll helps visitors explore what farming and food production look like today. Through virtual reality, visitors are immersed in modern sites of food production, including Rungis, the biggest food market in the world, located near Paris, a gigantic slaughterhouse in Bavaria, and plantations in Almería.

Future Exhibitions

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate

Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), 19 May–20 October 2019

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is poised to be a significant exhibition at the V&A on a variety of food topics (including food history). It will feature over seventy contemporary projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists, designers, chefs, farmers, scientists and local communities. The exhibition will explore how individuals, communities and organizations are re-inventing how we experience food. FOOD leads visitors through the food cycle, from “Compost” to “Farming” to “Trading” to “Eating.” Visitors will even experience several installations physically growing in the gallery space. These projects will sit alongside thirty objects from the V&A collections, including early food advertisements, illustrations, and ceramics, providing historical context to the contemporary exhibits. The V&A has also released information about a number of early events related to the exhibit, including a Curators’ Talk and a Food Styling and Photography Workshop. Readers can receive an early bird offer of 40% off individual advance tickets using promo code FOOD40 at check out. Note that this offer is available for a limited time only and please review the terms and conditions.

Last Supper in Pompeii

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology (Oxford, UK), 25 July 2019–12 January 2020

The Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford has scheduled an exhibition delving into a story of the foods loved and consumed by the people of the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. This southern Italian resort town was located between vineyards, orchards, and the Bay of Naples; its people produced wine, olive oil, and garum (a fish sauce) for consumers around the Mediterranean. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the first century, people in Pompeii were eating, drinking, and producing food, like any other day. Much evidence has been preserved about the food in this town, such as mosaics in villas and the remains found in kitchen drains. The exhibition will feature many objects on loan from Naples and Pompeii which have never left Italy. The items range from the luxury furnishings of Roman dining rooms to the carbonized food that was on the table when the volcano erupted. Accompanying the exhibition is the forthcoming publication of Last Supper in Pompeii (Ashmolean Museum, 2019) by Paul Roberts, the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Included in the book is new research based on the excavation of drains and rubbish pits and the excavation of a Roman vineyard between Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Café Europe: Food Ties

Museum of European Cultures (Berlin, Germany), 1 August–1 September 2019

The Museum of European Cultures, one of the Berlin State Museums, hosts a permanent exhibition “Cultural Contacts: Living in Europe” which examines discussions on social movements and boundaries. Tied to the permanent exhibition, “Café Europe: Food Ties,” is a temporary exhibition with accompanying special events exploring trans-regional and international influences on the culinary arts. As mobility has continued to increase across Europe, so too has culinary migration. Diets have both assimilated many influences and changed significantly in recent decades. Be sure to check the website as “Café Europe” approaches for more information about cooperating partners and scheduled special events.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.


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