JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2006/2018, 2018, or 2019. Physical sizes range from roughly 36×30 to 74×60 inches, and all of the works are available in editions of 7. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: In 1961, Claes Oldenburg rented out an empty storefront on East 2nd Street on the Lower East Side in New York and set up an installation he humbly called The Store. Oldenburg’s store was filled with the same mix of mundane items that could be found for sale in any number of nearby five-and-dimes – clothing, food, and assorted everyday commercial items. The clever twist was that Oldenburg’s available merchandise was actually art, each sculptural item made of crudely painted muslin and plaster, sometimes in exaggerated scale. The result was a playfully biting installation conflating art and commerce, that both upended the seriousness of art and its usual display space and found edgy sculptural expressiveness in the lowest of subjects. As an entire experience, it would later be lauded as a landmark of Pop art.
Oldenburg’s food was particularly comic, as he reinvented many of the classics of the American diner. He made paired cheeseburgers (with all the fixings), baked potatoes with pats of butter, slices of pie a la mode, a grandly oversized ice cream cone, and a drippingly melting banana split, among other nostalgic treats. Many he placed in an actual metal and glass pastry case, giving them the context of retail sale. But his sculptures of these familiar foods verged on the visually grotesque, their forms expressively distorted and roughly assembled and their squishy colors made glossy by the enamel paint he used. They were approximations, almost like abstractions made from memory, but still wholly recognizable, even in their wonderfully deliberate messiness.
Sharon Core’s new photographs give Oldenburg’s food sculptures one more turn of the conceptual crank. Oldenburg turned food into sculpture, but Core turns those same artworks back into actual food, which she has then photographed with exacting commercial precision. The iterative transformation from real to imagined and back again leads to satisfyingly unnerving improvisations and substitutions by Core, who creatively encourages actual burgers to resemble Oldenburg’s stylized parodies.
Core has been been meticulously exploring this type of inverted photorealism for most of her artistic career. She famously recreated the luscious pastel-colored cakes and confections from Wayne Thiebaud’s 1960s paintings, personally baking and icing arrays of perfect rounds and slices. She reimagined the arrangements of the 19th century American still life painter Raphaelle Peale, using carefully cast light, period ceramics, and real peaches, apples, and juicy slices of watermelon. And she has unraveled centuries of floral still life painting styles, recreating everything from exuberant Dutch bouquets and more unassuming Impressionist blossoms, using flowers grown in her own gardens. In each case, she has extended the typical ideas of photographic realism to include both reinterpreting the history of painting and making rich connections to the physical world.
Taking on Oldenburg’s sculptural foods has forced Core to handle three-dimensionality more overtly than ever before; in reimagining paintings, the flattening eye of the camera was often her friend, pushing her arrangements back toward the painted aesthetic. Her Oldenburgs have much more heft and presence, the bluntness he applied to a round hamburger or a thick triangular slice of blueberry pie requiring noticeable depth and weight. But her shaping is largely up to the challenge – her Yellow Pie is delightfully deflated and sagging, her Strawberry Shortcake like a block, and her Giant Ice Cream Cone, Lying both crisply conical and softly drooping. She’s hit Oldenburg’s signature tactile limpness right on the head.
The glossy brightness of Oldenburg’s enamel paint also forced Core into another set of adaptations. Often she uses colored icing to mimic the glares and highlights that bounce around Oldenburg’s surfaces, and in a few cases, watery paint washes seem to have been applied to hamburger buns, pickles, sliced tomatoes, and gloppy sauces to give them a bit more wet glow. A melting ice cream sandwich set against a crinkly metallic red wrapper sits at the extreme edge of this visual challenge, but Core’s light across the dripping chocolate surface recreates the swirled undulations with surprising fidelity.
In a contemporary world filled with annoyingly perfect food images, Core’s Oldenburgs feel like a timely corrective. Their authentically muddled disorder is a return to winking subversive playfulness, where food can still be gloriously disheveled and gooey. These photographs have enough art-about-art braininess to keep them from getting too decorative, and will be easy to like for a wide audience. While their inversions are straightforward, their impressively exacting, down-to-the-last-drip execution is what keeps us looking.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $14000 and $20000, based on size, with some images already sold out. Core’s work has slowly begun to enter the secondary markets in the past decade, with recent prices ranging between roughly $8000 and $88000.