Artist Darren Bader literally puts fruit and vegetables on a pedestal—and then turns it into a salad for visitors.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 17, 2019
Matthew Septimus Courtesy of MoMA PS1

Chefs often say "you eat with your eyes first" as a way of speaking to the importance of presentation—now, apparently, the fine art world is coopting that idea for high-concept modern works.

By now, we've all heard the tale of the $120,000 banana at Art Basel—a literal banana duct-taped to a wall which was subsequently eaten by another artist as "performance art." Well, the curators at the Whitney Museum of American Art would have reason to be upset the Miami art fair stole their thunder—or maybe they're happy that they're already on board with an emerging trend. Either way, the New York museum had actually already announced a very similar exhibition last month—and when it opens in January, you, the viewers, will get to be a part of the performance side of things.

Announced weeks before Maurizio Cattelan turned a banana into the biggest art story of the year, "Fruits, Vegetables; Fruit and Vegetable Salad" comes courtesy of American artist Darren Bader who is, like Cattelan, known for his absurdist works. For instance, Eater cites another time Bader dabbled in food: the 2012 piece "Lasagna on Heroin" where he injected a piece lasagna with heroin, of course.

For this new fruitier concept, which is technically untitled, Bader will present individual fresh fruits and vegetables—which he calls "nature's impeccable sculpture"—on a series of their own pedestals. However, as the Whitney explains, "Before over-ripening, the produce is removed from the pedestals by museum staff and is then chopped, sliced, shaved, and diced into a salad. Visitors are invited to eat the salad and experience the fruits and vegetables as both art objects and food. The artwork is then refreshed with a new selection of fruits and vegetables." Thus, the circle of life (and art) continues.

Still, Christie Mitchell, senior curatorial assistant at the Whitney and the exhibition's curator, was quick to point out where Cattelan's banana and Bader's fruit differ. "The $120,000 banana is completely coincidental in timing, and the two works do have similarities but are fundamentally quite different. Both use humor and obviously riff on the legacy of the Readymade, but to me the Whitney's collection work is as much about beauty and the uncanny as it is about poking holes in the structures and assumptions of the art world and of display," she told me via email. "The genius twist, in my opinion, is inviting visitors to eat the work. What does it mean to eat something that was previously a collection of sculptures you were admiring in the galleries on pedestals? I'm not sure we'll settle on a definitive answer in sampling the salad, but asking the question is the first step."

Adding to the somewhat odd nature of the exhibition, which will stand alone in the Whitney's eighth-floor galleries, it comes with specific salad-making and eating times: Mondays 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays 7:30 10 p.m., and Sundays 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Sort of like an aquarium dolphin show where we are the dolphins.)

The untitled work will be displayed from January 15 to February 17, 2020. If you want to know which specific fruits and vegetables will be included… uh… I don't know. Maybe call ahead?