An exciting new exhibition just opened at the Blanton! Nina Katchadourian: Curiouser explores approximately ten major bodies of work by celebrated Brooklyn-based artist Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968), including video, photography, sculpture, sound art, and a live performance. Every week, we’ll be sharing essays from the exhibition catalogue, including contributions from everyone from an animal behaviorist to a psychoanalyst.
Up first: artist and writer Matt Freedman on The Genealogy of the Supermarket, with a few words about the monumental work from the artist first.
The Genealogy of the Supermarket
The Genealogy of the Supermarket interrelates people who appear on common supermarket products and organizes them so that they populate one very large family tree. Playing on the fantasies of lineage and heritage that these characters already provoke (“My Italian grandmother made this delicious pasta sauce from a family recipe for me!”), the family tree takes these relations at face value and repatriates them to their rightful place on a suggested living room wall.
Immortality once took the sanction of a god, but nowadays eternal life can be found on the grocery store shelf. The apotheosis of one Lorraine Collett (raven-haired, red-bonnet-wearing, part-time grape seeder for the California Associated Raisin Company) into a celestial pun, the eponymous Sun-Maid, mirrors the transit of Queen Cassiopeia from beautiful mortal to star system. Or consider Ettore Boiardi, the ambitious restaurateur from Sicily, whose Herculean labors earned him a deathless incarnation as Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
Image: Installation view of Nina Katchadourian’s The Genealogy of the Supermarket, 2005 and ongoing. Courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Colin Doyle.
And there they sit, side by side in the pantry firmament—the snack and the ready-made dinner in a can, glorious avatars of all things alluringly salty-sweet and user-friendly, together in the dark intimacy of the kitchen cabinet. It would be unnatural if the charisma that draws us to their product lines did not act on their own hearts as well. The maid looks demure, her eyes downcast as she struggles to maintain the awkward platter of Thompson grapes she is damned to eternally proffer. A gallant hand reaches out to steady the burden. She glances up and meets the gaze of a robust older man in a jauntily cocked toque. His flamboyant kerchief, neatly trimmed moustache, and comfortable double chin promise a lifetime of security and genteel adventure. Who could resist? She holds out a single grape, peeled. He sucks it down, and he is lost. He grabs a handful of the grapes from her tray, soaks them in white wine, adds toasted pine nuts, garlic, a head of fennel and an onion (thinly sliced), a pound of sardines, and a couple of anchovies. He mixes in al dente bucatini pasta and serves it with a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs. “Pasta con le Sarde,” he says shyly; “it is the national dish of Sicily, land of my forefathers.” The maid inhales fragrant bite after bite. She too is lost. “But I thought you were from Cleveland,” she says, charmingly coy. “That’s where my restaurant was,” says the chef, his eyes never leaving hers. “I used to give this away in old milk bottles. Then I monetized, set up a factory in Milton, Pennsylvania, and sold out to American Home Products, which later turned its food division into International Home Foods, which sold itself to ConAgra, Inc. Actually, now I am headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. Buon appetito!”