What is it about food?

I… kinda get it. I mean, we all love food. One of the hardest things about keeping fit is that food cravings are not logical, or at least they were evolved in a calorie-scarce era, and not in the modern world of fast food.

I’ve even taken photos of food. I’ve done it professionally, and I’ve also taken photos of my own cooking.

But there are a ton of photos of people’s meals on social media. So much so that there’s social media dedicated to photos of people taking photos of food. And I think therein lies the problem.

We don’t care.

We’re inundated with these photos of other people’s meals, and we don’t have a reason to be excited about it. The base desires and inspirations that food brings out of all of us has a power, and it has a power to create an audience, but if you have an audience, you have to say something.

And most people are only saying “Look at me! I have fancy food!” Or an even more basic, “Yum!”

And that’s why it fails with their audiences.

I think I was overbroad previously – that I lumped all food art into the same circular file and never looked at it again. Recently I went to the National Art Center in Nogizaka, and was reminded of exactly how wrong I was.

It’s not that I have an excuse for my premature dismissal of an entire huge chunk of art. I mean, I’d seen Like Water for Chocolate probably 20 years ago, and  Tampopo when I was a film student at NIU. And it’s not like I’d forgotten about them. I’ve seen them both several times since. Tampopo’s a perennial. I don’t think I’d ever not watch if if you asked nice. And, at their core, they are art about food. But they’re rocket science compared to Instagram’s crayon-on-hallway-wall food photography.

Arin Rungjang’s Golden Teardrop is also an amazing piece of art with food at it’s core.  The Golden Teardrop uses a Southeast Asian egg sweet recipe as a binding agent for of an installation and video about family and immigration.

Arin Rungjang: Golden Teardrop (Thai Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale) from West Den Haag on Vimeo.

I knew I had to go to the exhibit when I saw some photos a student had taken there. The physical sculpture portion of the art is intensely visually stimulating. It’s fascinating to look at. Without context, I could have photographed it for a good long while. But it was the context of the movie that made it great. The movie pulls you into a family story around the food, which then gives the sculpture the context to be something even more interesting than it had been alone.

That was where I found the most interesting photos, as well. Not in photographing the installation without context, but by watching people interact and experience Golden Teardrop.

The National Art Center is located next to Nogizaka station, but it’s walkable from Roppongi station as well. I’t’s often worth the trip, but I’d check what exhibitions are on before you go. You have to pay individually for each exhibition, though there is a discount ticket to get into everything.

Museums and galleries know that a good curator is a priceless treasure. And I haven’t found the museum in Tokyo that yet delivers consistent great art. But the National Art Center definitely has some winners. And probably one of the most beautiful places to have a coffee in Tokyo.