New at the Mint Museum is the exhibit F.O.O.D: (Food, Objects, Objectives, Design), which offers a creative look into objects used to prepare, cook or present food. With approximately 300 selections from the permanent collection of the Mint, loans and new acquisitions, the exhibit was conceived by Annie Carlano, the Mint's director of craft + design, and co-organized by FoodCultura in Barcelona, a research institute and archive of food-related objects created by Antoni Miralda and Barcelona chef Montse Guillén in 2000.
F.O.O.D. has no headsets or cell phone audio tours available, though tours with a docent may be arranged. Near the entrance of the exhibit is the Menu, a by-the-number list of facts about the objects on display, written in both English and Spanish. F.O.O.D. is the first fully-bilingual exhibition organized by the Mint.
But facts often do not give insight into the significance of the objects. Much of the modern museum experience is to bring "you" into the exhibit. In other words, the connections you make while viewing the exhibit are what you take away. No backstories are offered. So, for example, if you have a friend or member of the family who collects colorful circa-1930s Fiesta ceramic dinnerware (The Homer Laughlin China Company of West Virginia), you probably know when you see the Fiesta here that this was affordable solid-color Art Deco open-stock pieces first made during the Depression. The original orange-red Fiesta pieces are known to have uranium oxide in the glaze and are thus called "Fiesta Atomic Red," a curious footnote about pre-World War II American tableware. The pieces on display at F.O.O.D. are turquoise, not one of the original five colors, but not radioactive either.
F.O.O.D. is divided into four sections: TABLE, KITCHEN, PANTRY and GARDEN.
An additional section has a board where visitors can add recipes, which will be culled by the museum staff, tested and then published at a future date.
Here is what is cool about F.O.O.D.:
As you enter the TABLE area, be sure to take in the "Feast of Impropriety," a porcelain sculpture by Chris Antemann (2010). This multi-figured scene portrays a celebratory banquet with salacious diners, many without clothing but with gilded hair and painted faces, enjoying 18th century foods. "Feast" puts a spin on both porcelain figurines and tableware.
The neighboring KITCHEN area is reminiscent of rummaging through kitchen drawers. A whimsical elephant spice mill stares across at the iconic Le Creuset signature Dutch oven made famous by Julia Child and then again in the 2009 film Julie & Julia. Ubiquitous primary-color Pyrex mixing bowls from the 1940s share the section with the brilliant applied art of artist Georg Jensen.
Located on a side wall, "Autarchy" (2012), by Italian designers Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, is worthy of study. These designers, who founded Formafantasma (based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands) created tableware specifically for F.O.O.D. using Charlotte's local products, including cornmeal, agricultural waste, vegetable dyes, beeswax and pine tar. Their work explores the relationship between sustainability and local products, clearly echoing Carlano's goal to focus on 21st century concerns.
Next up is PANTRY. Near the food poster display is a portal flashing a slide show by photographer James Martin, taken in collaboration with Miralda, of Charlotte's many ethnic markets, all of which have been written about in Creative Loafing.
However, the best of the exhibit is the tapestry in GARDEN (which ironically does not have The Big Green Egg, an egg-shaped ceramic kamado-style charcoal cooker). American artists Andy Diaz Hope and Laurel Roth created "Allegory of the Monoceros" (2008), itself a mix of a traditional medium made on a computer-driven loom. The monoceros are not the unicorns of 15th-century tapestries, but a pair of arctic narwhal, an animal highly susceptible to climate change. "Allegory" is a lushly woven narrative of human intervention in evolution. Cloned sheep stand beneath Darwin's apple tree — itself part of a creation myth — entwined with a double helix: one-serpent the medicinal symbol, and the two-serpent symbol of Hermes, god of trade. Genetically modified corn stands in juxtaposition with the extinct golden toad and the threatened honey bee.
"Allegory," placed as one of the last selections in F.O.O.D. and in the GARDEN section, begs the question of human complicity in the 21st century food chain.