‘Caesar Salad Chandelier’, 2021
THE HUMBLE LETTUCE is having something of a design renaissance. Appearing in runway collections, home furnishings and – most pervasively – in the revival of iconic lettuce-ware. Dodie Thayer’s ceramics, popular among American socialites in the 1960s, are quickly snapped up at auction. An extensive collection sold for $60,000 at Sotheby’s annual Americana week in early 2020, far exceeding the auction estimate of $10,000-$15,000. The popularity of the decorative vegetable has only increased in the last year. Maximalist kitsch is the trend du jour as people turn towards the interior space as their only opportunity for creative expression.
This inward orientation has likewise occupied the thoughts of the Canadian-born, New York-based artist Chloe Wise. In a series of paintings and sculptures, currently showing at Almine Rech New York, Wise grapples with the unprecedented chaos, both political and personal, that has ensued over the last 12 months. She explores the simulated sense of normalcy that shrouds our lives: staged smiles hide the reality that there is no such thing as normal anymore; everyday actions such as preparing food are routinised to the point of absurdity.
Unlike Thayer’s shiny, unblemished porcelain vessels, Wise’s ‘Caesar Salad Chandelier’ is hyperrealistic. The lettuce leaves are scattered with tiny croutons; they curl and crinkle, sodden with a creamy caesar dressing that drips into a shining pool on the gallery floor below. Wise moulded the leaves by taking a urethane cast, and then hand-painted each one, capturing the colours so perfectly that they really look good enough to eat. The chandelier is one of four functional light installations in the exhibition and one of Wise’s first forays into functional art. However, it was not the function of the object that inspired her: she simply loved the idea of a salad chandelier.
Caesar salad is the subject of many of Wise’s sculptural works. Splattered salad leaves and sauce spill over a marble platform in her 2016 installation ‘Olive Garden of Eden’ and a deconstructed sandwich adorns a mirrored plinth in her 2019 exhibition ‘And Everything Was True’. Familiar and quotidian, Wise is fascinated by the salad’s endless incarnations. It is an American staple, served both as a gourmet appetiser at upmarket restaurants on the one hand, and carelessly scrunched inside an airport sandwich on the other. The salad’s origins are shrouded in mystery. The dish is associated with Italy, and yet its Italian-ness is deceptive as it was in fact invented in Tijuana, Mexico. ‘Caesar Salad Chandelier’ escapes categorisation in the same way. It is at once a symbol of wealth, high class and beauty – and the pinnacle of gaudiness and fakery.
‘Thank You For The Nice Fire’, an exhibition of new works by Chloe Wise is at Almine Rech New York until 17th April 2021.