Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

This summer proves to be an exciting one for anyone seeking recipes-related exhibitions at museums, libraries, and other institutions. Many exhibitions featuring the history of food, medicine, and science are well underway or opening soon, and many of the below institutions have created online components to accompany the in-person exhibitions. You will also see below that two culinary museums have opened this year. Furthermore (and excitingly!), exhibitions of interest are already being announced for 2023, such as Staging the Table in Europe, 1500–1800. Be sure to check the websites for full descriptions, as well as information like hours, fees, directions, and COVID-19 updates. Thank you to all in the Recipes Project community who contributed to this post and let me know about upcoming exhibitions! We always welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

African/American: Making the Nation’s Table

Museum of Food and Drink (New York, NY, USA)

Through 19 June 2022

African/American offers a view of the breadth of African American culinary traditions and innovations. The exhibition celebrates and seeks recognition for the countless Black chefs, farmers, and food and drink producers who shaped American food culture. Visitors can experience 400 years of Black influence on agriculture, culinary arts, brewing and distilling, and commerce, particularly through their movements during the Atlantic Slave Trade and Great Migration. The exhibition features impressive installations, such as the Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen and the Legacy Quilt, a collaborative project celebrating people, stories, and art; the Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience. Links to other interactive experiences such as the Virtual Reality Theater and Mapping the Nation’s Table are available on the exhibition website.

Alchemies of Scent

Prague, Czech Republic

June 2022

Alchemies of Scent is an interdisciplinary research group exploring the practice of ancient Egyptian and Greek perfumery, studying its place in the history of science, and examining the changing connections between art, craft, science and culture in the ancient Mediterranean world. In June 2022, the group is hosting two public workshops and a performance. Participants in the workshops, The Metopion Perfume: Ingredients and Experiment, will learn the myths and stories of scents and substances of the Ancient Mediterranean by plunging into one of the first cross-cultural perfumes of the Greco-Egyptian world: the Metopion. Through smell, taste, and touch, participants will experience the differences between past and present ingredients. Additionally, participants will develop skills of interpreting ancient recipes. Alchemies of Scent is also hosting a dramatization of the myth of Myrrha (the birth of Myrrh according to Ovid and Hyginus) on 17 June 2022.

Animalistic! From Animals to Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

Pharmaziemuseum Universität Basel (Basel, Switzerland)

Through 5 June 2022

Four institutions in Basel are exploring a single theme, the relationship between humans and animals, through four distinct exhibitions. Each exhibition considers questions such as “how has the relationship between humans and animals changed, here and elsewhere?” and “what are the strengths and abilities attributed to animals?” The Pharmacy Museum’s exhibition investigates the use of animals as drugs, active ingredients of pharmaceuticals, and symbols in the history of pharmacy up to the present day. These themes are addressed through a fascinating collection of texts, artifacts, and specimens such as bezoars, isinglass, musk, Spanish flies, and snake flesh.

The Essence of a Painting. An Olfactory Exhibition

Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)

Through 3 July 2022

This innovative exhibition allows visitors to experience the Prado’s collections through the sense of smell. In collaboration with the Perfume Academy Foundation and the “AirParfum” technology developed by Puig, the perfumer Gregorio Sola created ten fragrances associated with elements present in the painting “The Sense of Smell,” part of the series on “The Five Senses” executed by Jan Brueghel in 1617 and 1618. The fragrances allow visitors to appreciate elements in the painting in a new way. For example, Sola has crafted the fragrance “Gloves,” which reproduces the smell of gloves scented with ambergris, based on a 1696 recipe. All ten aromas in the exhibition are detailed on the website.

Food for Thought: Riddles and Riddling Ways

McGill Library (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Through 30 June 2022

Visitors to the Food for Thought exhibition will explore mealtime riddle practices through items curated from McGill Library’s collections and beyond. Focusing particularly on the 18th and 19th centuries, the exhibition reveals ways in which people bonded during meals. This exhibition stems from a broader project, the Riddle Project.

FOOD: Recipe or Remedy

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)

Through 27 January 2023

This exhibition explores the relationship between food and health over the last 600 years. The featured objects and texts on display consider changing ideas about how food could be used as a prophylactic, cure, and more. The exhibition also highlights the role of the physician, particularly Fellows and Members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, in the development of food-based medical treatments. The website includes links to recorded talks and articles related to the exhibition.

Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina

Rome, Italy

Garum is a culinary library and museum tracing the history of cooking and eating habits from the fifteenth century to the present. The museum boasts collections of culinary artifacts used in haute cuisine, home kitchens, and the creation of professional pastry, chocolate, and ices. The library consists of a fine collection of antiquarian culinary texts, including rare editions of Platina, Scappi, Menon, Carême, and Escoffier.

“Window display #4 Chocolate molds,” Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina https://www.museodellacucina.com/en/vetrina-4-stampi-per-cioccolato/

LA Plaza Cocina

Los Angeles, CA, USA

LA Plaza Cocina, a museum dedicated to Mexican and Mexican American cuisine, opened earlier this year with its inaugural exhibition Maize: Past, Present and Future. Through objects, images, and cookbooks, the exhibition celebrates maize as a sacred grain and global food source. The museum will feature a new exhibition every six months. This culinary museum also includes online tours and exhibitions.

Awaken ______: An Experimental Exhibit, Prototype B

Mercer Museum (Doylestown, PA, USA)

Through Late Summer 2022

Henry Mercer established the Mercer Museum to give people tangible reminders of preindustrial daily life, including the collective acts of creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and making do. Prototype B, the second part of the exhibition series, Awaken, explores these acts through the themes of food, cooking, dining, and inheritance. The exhibit includes an installation devoted to cooking and recipes and another on dining and unforgettable meals. Visitors are encouraged to share their own food-related stories, traditions, and memories.

[Re]Framing Graphic Medicine: Comics and the History of Medicine

University of Chicago Library (Chicago, IL, USA)

Through 15 July 2022

Drawing upon prints, illustrated newspapers and magazines, comic books, zines, and more, this exhibition seeks to reframe the history of medical images towards a broader socio-cultural history. The exhibition’s images span a range of themes, perspectives, and eras to address topics such as environmental health, gender and sexuality, disability, and health inequities.

From the [Re]Framing Graphic Medicine exhibition: Hans von Gersdorff, The Wound Man, Feldtbuch der Wundartzney, 1530.The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center. The University of Chicago Library.

Rice: A Story of Africa and the Americas

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Opens 16 June 2022

This mini exhibit set within the Resetting the Table exhibition is focused on rice cultivation in the Americas. It explores the establishment of the rice industry based upon African knowledge systems, the toll of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the lasting culture of the Gullah Geechee, the descendants of the enslaved Africans who provided labor for the rice industry.

Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700

Princeton University Library (Princeton, NJ, USA)

Through 17 July 2022

Princeton University holds two of the twenty-three extant Ripley Scrolls, each spectacular manuscripts central to the transmission of alchemical knowledge in premodern Europe. This exhibition featuring Princeton’s Ripley Scrolls shows how European alchemists built upon Greco-Egyptian, Islamic, and late medieval knowledge to create a golden age of alchemy from the 15th through 17th centuries. An accompanying digital exhibition is also available.

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


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