Marina Abramović and Ulay’s “Communist Body/Fascist Body” at the Smart Museum of Art


CHICAGO - Chicago is one of the best food towns in the U.S. these days, and the last time I visited I was happy to score a table at the most impossible-to-get restaurant, Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo (or Topolo).  Although they have an award-winning wine list, we couldn’t resist the margaritas, shaken tableside, and a guacamole that had a delicious sweet crunch that I suspect was from jicama. We had a tasting menu that was quite literally a trip through the regions of Mexico, starting with a seafood trio that included a razor clam ceviche, uni with sea beans and tequila-infused cucumbers, and an abalone in its pearly shell with a chili avocado oil aioli. From there it was on to a charred baby octopus, then a Mayan-style redfish and the grand finale – a wood-oven-roasted suckling pig. I can’t begin to tell you about all the complex garnishes and sauces that came with it, but all were extremely finessed and elegant in flavor, texture and visual excitement. All of Bayless’s restaurants list the local farms that are purveyors, a very welcome trend in my opinion.

The seafood trio and wood-oven-roasted suckling pig at Topolobampo.


For lunch the next day, I had the pleasure of dining in the Art Institute of Chicago’s beautiful Renzo Piano wing, at Terzo Piano, whose chef is Tony Mantuano. He said hello to my guest, so I got to speak to him at length about this restaurant, his Italian restaurant Spiaggia, as well as his appearances on Top Chef. The food was again locally sourced, with purveyors listed on the menu, and I had a chickpea and veggie burger with zucchini and chilis with a romesco sauce. I’m sorry it was only lunchtime and didn’t taste more. But my appetite was satiated by a walk through the modern and contemporary galleries, where I feasted on Rauschenberg, Richter, Guston and great Abex pictures, among others.


Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy “portrait” of his lover, Ross.

Given my twin loves for art and food, I couldn’t resist a trip to the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art to see FEAST: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, an exhibition that combines the two. I was not disappointed – intellectually nourishing, well presented, and a stimulating blend of historic and contemporary art. The show is based on the premise that since the 1930s, artists have used the simple act of sharing food and drink to advance aesthetic goals and engage with their culture. From the Italian Futurists, to Rirkrit Tiravanija, we see how food can spark encounters and debate, while building community. The first gallery was the most poetic – a Felix Gonzalez-Torres corner piece made of 175 pounds of candy equivalent to the weight of his lover, Ross. The viewer depletes the pile, and the museum staff replenishes it, so that participation and consumption become part of the artwork itself. Participatory artworks continue in several pieces throughout the show, including a recreation of Tom Marioni’s famed beer bar, and an ice cream social that will be held on closing day featuring special ice cream cakes created by artist David Robbins. The show’s reach extends throughout Chicago, including a food truck serving Iraqi cuisine entitled “Enemy Kitchen.”

Michael Rakowitz serving Iraqi cuisine from his Enemy Kitchen (Food Truck). Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects.

I especially enjoyed a recreation of a more historic piece – Marina Abramović and Ulay’s collaborative installation “Communist Body/Fascist Body.” The original performance took place in 1979, when the artists invited friends to their apartment just before midnight on their shared birthday. The guests found an artfully arranged tableau – two tables set with luxurious crystal, champagne and caviar on the German side, and the Russian side set identically with cheap imitations of the same. Their birth certificates were displayed on the table, and they were asleep on a mattress, covered with a red blanket. As the text for the exhibition explains, the work upends the usual interaction between host and guest, and also comments on how our identities are shaped by what we ingest – in this case, made all the more dramatic by the different nations, ideologies and economies in which they were each raised. The exhibition is up through 10 June.

Marina Abramović and Ulay’s Communist Body/Fascist Body.