An entire show about cake without a Thiebaud painting in sight? Thank goodness! For once, someone proves it’s entirely possible to put together a show about treats that gives other artists the chance to offer up a different point of view.
& Eat it Too!, is a funny, complex and well-considered showing of eleven artists, each with their own narrative and approach to the cake form. The selected works use of a range of materials from the pastel and sweet to political and confrontational to a few with a more sticky and sexy edge. Curated by Condo Association member Gail Ana Gomez, this survey of contemporary cake works is everything you would expect from a show about cake yet with a few surprises in the mix. The inspiration for the show was based on Yvette Mayorga’s innovative use of icing to blend the painterly with the sculptural that has kept her busy with shows across Chicago. In a thoughtful curatorial choice, this show includes examples of her lesser-known time-based work. Projections of two videos by Mayorga, Really Safe in my Room in America and Great Again!, digitally collage racy selfies with jumpy images of the borderland between Mexico and the USA. It is a disjointed mash-up that conveys the artist’s impressions of her experience living in and out of America. Two sculptures by Matthew Hilshorst are some of the tastier-looking fake cakes in the show. A wall-mounted cake made of acrylic paint, Con, is a recreation of the accidental poetry that happens when party cakes are cut and served. The missing icing text reconfigures the once happy messages (Congratulations!) into phrases more world-weary and vague, a simulacrum of chance producing an interesting turn of phrase.
One surprise connection were multiple works featuring ass and cake. A video by the Cake Butt Collective titled King Cake, shown at the Whitney Houston Biennial in New York and here for the first time in Chicago, has two performers sitting on a Mardi Gras king cake. The butts are in protest of the cake’s cis associations. The exhibition text states that their collective is a “collaborative food porn performance art project” and their brand of feminist activism views cake-sitting as a “metaphor for crushing the patriarchy and [other] systemic toxic infrastructure”. The installation by Joshua Michael Jenkins, titled Lick The Icing Off, is a gauzy, ass-extravaganza and complements well the collective’s video. Photographs of rear-ends and plastic utensils are assembled into a hodge-podge ode to ass. At the top of the stairs, the confectionary activism continues. A projection of images from the Protest Cakes Instagram account (@protestcakes) pipes messages of support in icing rather than scrawled onto cardboard. On cake after cake, messages convey solidarity with immigrant, feminist, LGBTQIA and other communities under attack by this farcical administration.
But in one of the strongest contributions to the show and a true feat of sheet-baked sculpture, Jillian Hansen-Lewis supplied a counter-size, self-portrait cookie cake for the opening reception. Aptly titled, Sorry to miss the opening, the cookie cake is a curvy full body recreation served for the opening but now available cut, bagged, and offered for viewing – as either sculptural remnants or perhaps as a snack for later. Another standout work is Lauren Carter’s towering cake monument titled The One that’s like a Cake (It’s all for you). Layers of sentimental trinkets and personal effects are lovingly crammed into a four-tier cake of spackle, the form overstuffed to the point of buckling under its own weight and reliant upon the support of a dirty stick to stay upright. Other bits not to be missed include Erik Peterson’s corner-mounted piece of mirrored cake. The illusion, installed at six, rather than sixty inches from center, is a funny note that could be easily overlooked. In keeping with the cake realness, a work by the only full-time cake professional Edward Cabral takes his cake to the dark side – instead of the standard wedding or candle cake-topper, his black icing cake is capped with a sugar sculpture of a bull goring a man from behind.
This diverse buffet of artists makes for a great visual argument about the potential of cake as a meaningful symbol of change. Cake may be sweet, but it isn’t all that simple. The title of the show, a lopped-off version of the adage, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” points towards how aggressively binary oppositions have been force-fed to society. The approach of parsing people and their proclivities into normative categories of ethnicity, gender or sexuality is directly refuted by the works in the show. The layers of perspective on view are a testament to the collective realization that while the binary approach may have worked well for computers, it hasn’t been generative for humankind.