t most art gallery openings, you might score a plastic cup of wine and a few cubes of cheddar or Swiss cheese, maybe a cracker and some hummus. Not at The Carnegie in Covington. There is absolutely nothing run-of-the-mill about The Art of Food exhibit opening Friday. The popular event is expected to attract as many as 700 guests. And it’s safe to say that this year’s over-the-top extravaganza with a Candy Land theme might be the zaniest ever.
“The Art of Food is always a highlight of our year,” says Katie Brass, The Carnegie’s executive director. “The galleries are transformed with fantastic art, and talented local chefs showcase some of their most creative dishes. Whether attendees are captivated by a work of art or try an adventurous dish, it’s always a night to remember.”
Matt Distel, The Carnegie’s exhibition director, has worked closely for months with lead artist Pam Kravetz for an evening reflecting the ever-popular children’s board game. Kravetz and a band of artists work with chefs from 20 area restaurants for an event that’s as eye-popping as it is tasty. Guests on Friday will get a map of The Carnegie inspired by the red, green, blue, yellow, orange and purple squares of the board game’s linear track to find their way to each chef’s table. (Watch out for the villainous Lord Licorice, played for the evening by none other than Jean-Robert de Cavel.)
The children’s game is a race to find the lost king of Candy Land. Players pass locations such as Candy Cane Forest, Gum Drop Mountain, Lollipop Woods, Molasses Swamp and Ice Cream Sea. The winner is the first to reach King Kandy’s Castle, a replica of which will be centrally located beneath The Carnegie’s domed rotunda. Queen Frostine and Gramma Nutt will line the path and the castle, as well as pose on platforms that Kravetz and her team have built in front of the gallery’s tall windows.
The Art of Food was the brainchild of Bill Seitz, The Carnegie’s former gallery director. Back in 2007, Brass recalls, “We had six or seven chefs and we ran out of food in 30 minutes.” Now the team includes leadership from Sharon Butler of The Bonbonerie and Renee Schuler from eat well celebrations and feasts, who recruit numerous chefs willing to donate their time, the food they serve and their support staff.
Kravetz has been the creative driver for several years, and with each succeeding event she pushes it to a new level. For 2014, the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland encompassed the entire first floor with multiple scenes.
“This year,” Kravetz says, “we decided to take over the whole space and not chop it up. It’s a visual explosion, so we’ve made it a happening. It all becomes part of the same scene, like a game board. Everyone will get directions to play and go station-to-station to find the different chefs.”
It takes many contributors to pull off The Art of Food. “The beauty of this event,” Kravetz says, “is the collaboration of artists and chefs. We put everyone outside their comfort zones — even the people coming. You might think you know these chefs, but they will trick you.”
Kravetz has drawn artists from across the region, including sculptor Tony Dotson and video artist C. Jacqueline Wood. Dotson is creating a picnic scene in a gallery on The Carnegie’s second floor, lined with artificial turf and trees with hanging art. “My art is very colorful,” he says. And he frequently uses found materials, particularly wood. For his surreal picnic Dotson is making a scene full of forest creatures — 3D bears, Big Foot, Davy Crockett and even 1970s airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper.
Two years ago Wood was an Art of Food model, wearing a marshmallow dress. She filmed last year’s Alice in Wonderland-themed event, and this year she’s masterminding a wall of video images. “I’m creating some stop-motion animation with candy, and I’m manipulating some archival footage I’ve gleaned from a 1986 VHS version of the Candy Land game. That will disintegrate in an interesting way,” she says.
She also hopes to have a video incorporating real-life interaction with food, possibly involving volunteers engaged in candy overload.
One of the big challenges Distel and Kravetz face annually is topping the prior year’s event. This year, Distel points out they’re building a castle, adding a video wall and extending the theme to the upstairs galleries.
He observes that “people come for the atmosphere, but half of it goes away after the opening,” when the chefs’ contributions are no longer present. That’s why the exhibition runs for only a week, closing on Feb. 27. In fact, Brass says, she’s considering making it just a one-day special event.
And special it is. Even with very affordable admission ($25 in advance for Carnegie members, $40 for non-members, and $35 for members and $50 for non-members at the door — if it’s not sold out), The Art of Food generates approximately $35,000 in revenue for the multidisciplinary arts venue, a 1904 Carnegie Library building that underwent a significant renovation and renewal a decade ago. Brass says The Art of Food is one of The Carnegie’s two annual signature events. (The other is Suits that Rock, an evening of performances by community business leaders who show off their musical talents.)
Brass hopes everyone discovers that The Carnegie is about fun with a capital F. “This evening is a good time for just $25. It’s definitely not a black-tie, rubber-chicken event,” she says. Although if Kravetz and her crew have their way, a future The Art of Food just might be built around the creative inspiration of rubber chickens. ©
THE ART OF FOOD opens Friday from 6-9 p.m. at The Carnegie in Covington. Tickets and more info: thecarnegie.com.