Museum of Arts and Design's "Forbidden Fruit" Is Like 18th Century Food Porn

Courtesy of MEISSEN®

By Drew Pisarra Posted December 05, 2016

At porcelain sculptor Chris Antemann's "Forbidden Fruit," at the Museum of Arts and Design, you won't find any kitschy Hummel figurines crying over a half-eaten Fuji.

For "Forbidden Fruit," her recently opened exhibition at New York's Museum of Arts and Design, renowned porcelain sculptor Chris Antemann took inspiration in part from the Garden of Eden. But you won't find any kitschy Hummel figurines crying over a half-eaten Fuji in Paradise Lost on the museum's fifth floor. On the contrary, Antemann's witty creations relish and riff on the theme of Temptation in an 18th century wonderland of culinary excess and carnal desire. Her A Taste of Paradise (2013), for instance, has three periwigged figures, not two, reclining under the Tree of Knowledge: Adam and Eve and... Lilith, perhaps? The sexual tension among them is palpable while the proffered apple looks as if it's being offered to us more than Adam, given the direction of Eve's unwavering gaze.

That regretful piece of glazed fruit is hardly the only edible on display here. Indeed, Antemann's seductive tableaus of semi-clad and nude lovers are examples of gluttony's myriad appeals. Tables can be cluttered with plates of half-eaten desserts; one scene is framed by two towering pyramids of fruit; her spectacular chandelier literally drips with glistening lemons. Everything is in the details. In A Delicate Domain (2014), a young woman sits on a couch near a shirtless youth while holding what looks to be a butter dish of copulating lovers. In Little Maid (2014), a single tray holding a teapot, a teacup, a creamer and three stacked plates of delectable goodies balances seductively on a woman's rear as if the ceramicist were referencing both Marie Antoinette and Bettie Page in one fell swoop: Let them eat cake... if they dare.

Food & Wine: Chris Antemann Forbidden Fruit

Courtesy of MEISSEN®

All of it comes together in the exhibition's epic centerpiece, an elaborate, five-foot-high creation entitled Forbidden Fruit Dinner Party (2013), which showcases a food orgy that looks like it's about to erupt into a sexual one fairly soon, unless of course this feast is post-coital. How detailed does Antemann get? Well, let's just say her original clay model for the main banquet scene alone was sliced up into 300 individual molds – the smallest of them made for a mini pomegranate! And yes, nipples in the final version are repeatedly dotted cherry red.

It's quite a slick upgrade from Antemann's earlier work Lust & Gluttony (2008), which is also on display. Lacking the gloss of the more recent unique pieces and limited edition artworks made in collaboration with German porcelain manufacturers Meissen (where Antemann was in residency for three years), this earlier piece looks almost edible, like it was constructed from sugar or marzipan instead of ceramic. There's a certain violence at work here, as the one male nude crawling on the table literally wields a knife at an unconcerned female dinner guest who has taken a moment to look away from her mirror at us, not him. Wouldn't we like a little treat? Would we care to join the party?

Food & Wine: Chris Antemann Forbidden Fruit

Courtesy of MEISSEN®

There's also something delectably louche at play in this sculpture, with its slightly fleshier figures and gilded pubic hair. At once less polished and more carnal, less decorous and more lewd, Lust & Gluttony exemplifies Antemann's way of "addressing issues of gender, dominance and passivity" amid the environs of an 18th century banquet (as Portland Art Museum's former chief curator Bruce Guenther once aptly quipped).

You can easily see why Lust was the first Antemann acquisition to be added to MAD's permanent collection. And you can assume from the current exhibit that they'll be acquiring more. Erotica collecting often works that way. So addictive! For now there's nothing wrong with Antemann's embrace of the shiny perfection provided by Meissen. The firm's artisan craftsmanship reflects a 300-year-old tradition. Why not celebrate that? And to be honest, the added gloss only serves to heighten the lasciviousness in a most perverse way, even when Antemann's referencing Old Masters like Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. These newer pieces shine as if polished with spit. Whether you're a gourmand or a voyeur, the Forbidden artworks just might trigger your salivary glands too. That edible aspect isn't lost on Antemann, who said of her work at a 2014 lecture in Portland: "I see it as a big cake, porcelain cake. Porcelain dessert." We'd have to agree.

"Chris Antemann: Forbidden Fruit," an installation of 21 porcelain sculptures, runs now through February 5, 2017 at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with additional viewing hours on Thursday and Friday nights until 9 p.m. For more information regarding admission prices and other exhibitions and upcoming programs, visit madmuseum.org or call 212-299-7777.

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