“Portraying Food” is curated by Wu Hung, renowned University of Chicago professor of art history and impresario of contemporary Chinese art. Does the show make you hungry? Not exactly. Wu Hung interprets his theme broadly; the work of five Chinese artists recalls everything from seventeenth-century Dutch still-lives to Chaim Soutine’s butchered carcasses and Claes Oldenburg’s soft food sculptures. This ubiquity of food in the history of art demonstrates its flexibility as an index of social, cultural and class difference. Zhu Yu’s “Leftover Series” is the highlight of the exhibition and a successful departure from the grotesque conceptual and performance-based work that brought him so much notoriety. These perfectly executed oil paintings, each depicting a white plate containing the greasy remains of a meal, dominate the gallery’s central space with a Zeuxisian realism that nails the pleasure/disgust circuitry of eating and excess. Shen Shaomin’s sculptural installation/curio cabinet “Experimental Field” echoes this dynamic of delicacy and queer unpleasantness with a fossilized cabbage patch whose fragile, bone powder cabbages are stuffed with unnerving skeletons composed of rabbit heads and chicken feet. Liu Jianhua’s traditional ceramic casts of common food items and household objects are literal “still-lives” that shift the tone of the exhibition toward timely questions about the cost of increasing Chinese consumerism and consumption. (Rachel Furnari)
Through July 19 at Walsh Gallery, 118 N. Peoria St.