The Sweetest Thing

Artist Pam Kravetz and crew put the icing on the cake at 'The Art of Food'

Feb 27, 2013 at 10:21 am


am Kravetz is the hostess with the mostess. The big-hearted artist rarely shies from attention. Her craving began in kindergarten, when she was sent to the principal for wearing go-go boots and a miniskirt, continued at the University of Cincinnati as the Bearcat mascot and persists today as her alter-ego Pinky Shears, who leads the BombShells yarn-bombers in a tutu and platinum wig. 

For The Art of Food, the seventh annual celebration of food and food-inspired art opening March 1 at the Carnegie in Covington, Kravetz is the “marshmallow, glue and sugar-coated sweetness” at the center of “Let Them Eat Cake (on the Cakewalk),” a fashion show of 11 delectable looks from 15 artists working with several layers of DAAP students, beauty experts, bakers and others. Kravetz is curating the show-within-a-show; the entire Art of Food exhibition features works from nearly 30 artists among six galleries.

As the clock ticks toward the first-time runway, Kravetz and fashion designer Jenifer Sult are finishing flowery edible couture for their Marie Antoinette/Barbie model. Their title is “Irresistibly Ungapatchka,” Yiddish for “over-the-top.” Frannie Kroner of Feast personal-chef service has designed a marshmallow dress to be toasted on site. Brush Factory’s Rosie Kovacs plans for her model to mingle while pumping juice through tubing encircling a clear vinyl jacket. Kovacs also is the visionary making a square stage look like a round cake worthy of Versailles.

Kravetz dreamed up the “moving painting” right after last year’s exhibition, where she and the BonBonerie’s Sharon Butler presented on pedestals three women in tall wigs, corsets and skirts covered with cakes, cookware and candies. “I loved the idea of marrying chef and artist,” Kravetz says. 

She also liked the interactive performance aspect of having live models. After opening night, all she could think was, “I want more! I want more! I want more!”

Kravetz and Carnegie gallery director Bill Seitz remember the scene in 2012 before the public entered. 

“Just the skirts were there with nobody in them, and everybody thought that (alone) was the art,” says Kravetz. “And I thought, ‘Really? You think just this is it?’ ”

Seitz says he was in a circle of people paying attention only to one another. The chefs were prepping. “And then the models — 1, 2, 3 — climbed in under Pam’s and Sharon’s skirts and popped up. All the chefs stopped and applauded. Pam and Sharon were in tears. I told everyone, ‘I had nothing to do with this and I have goose bumps.’ The chefs were in awe. It was magical. That’s the beauty of The Art of Food.” 

A mutual love fest

Seitz begins his retirement from the Carnegie on March 4, after nearly 18 years. He thought up The Art of Food after the board asked him to curate more shows. He expected 300 people that first year, and 750 attended. The food was gone in less than an hour. “And the board said, ‘We’re doing this annually.’ ”

This is the fourth time Kravetz has been involved. “Pam could call me anytime and we’re going to be excited to talk to each other,” Seitz says. “I love her soul. She’s so genuine, so full of energy.” 

Kravetz returns the compliments. “Bill allows artists to elevate themselves,” she says. “It’s Bill’s last show. I want it to be the best. … He puts heart and soul into everything. He’s a sweet force to be reckoned with. He’s a quiet powerhouse.”

Kravetz’s first juried show was at the Carnegie in 2004, and it was the first time she met Seitz. “She was so bubbly,” Seitz says. “She said, ‘I want to paint the walls a lime neon green.’ And I thought, ‘You’ve become a character in my sitcom.’ ” He OK’d the green, as long as she repainted afterward. 

“It was a fun space, and she’s all about fun. She should be president of the fun club. She could have her own army,” Seitz says. Then he laughs: “She does! They’re saying, ‘Let’s do it’ before they know what they’re doing.”

Kravetz, a Harrison High School teacher, roped her students, other teachers and even Contemporary Arts Center director Raphaela Platow into making fondant roses for her cakewalk entry. She’s also an ArtWorks leader and says this is her first time curating, but the effort feels like another joyous collaboration. 

Rallying her troops

Sheets drape the counter and floor of Kravetz’s kitchen a month before The Art of Food opens. The sticky makings for cotton candy are on the stove. Blue-dyed spaghetti and waffles sit nearby. Kravetz, ever the hostess, uncorks champagne. 

Sult starts drizzling teal-dyed strands of sugar and corn syrup over wooden spoons and skewers. The remaining liquid is poured onto a tray to harden into stained-glass candy. Kravetz, Kovacs and wig designer Shannon Yoho ooh and ahh, until they notice the spun candy is sharp like fiberglass. The edges of the hard candy are wicked, too. But the women are not quite ready to abandon the materials.

“I feel like our garment is evolving,” Sult tells Kravetz. “I like working with you because you’re so organic, and I feel like I have to plan.” 

Sult is sewing in Kravetz’s living room two weeks later. There’s no sign of spaghetti, waffles or the homemade candy on their creation. They’ve switched to pink and blue panels of fondant icing, fondant flowers, licorice and candy raspberries. 

Pasta and cotton candy were too hard to work with, Sult confirms, “but somehow they got us here.” She wishes their skirt could be all food, but tulle covers the back because fondant is so heavy, like clay.

Jen Edwards, one of Kravetz’s stationary models last year, gingerly steps into the skirt as Kravetz and Sult pull it up. “Oh my god,” Edwards exclaims, once she feels the garment’s weight on her hips. 

“Geez, Jen, take one for the team!” Kravetz kids her fellow BombShell. “Suck it up and walk.”

Edwards is a recent recruit compared to art teachers and BombShells Karen Saunders and Carla Lamb, who have been lieutenants in Kravetz’s army for at least 20 years.

“Pam gets an idea, comes across something, and says to me, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing this. Wanna help?’ ” Lamb says. “Of course I say yes, because I know it will always be a creative challenge and time spent making art with a dear friend.”

Saunders has shown twice at The Art of Food, but this is the first time she’s used food for art. Her Asian-flavored “Good Fortune” outfit includes boots covered in a mosaic of rice and sesame seeds. A skirt is adorned with fortune cookies, and she’s using seaweed on a cummerbund, “like a sushi roll.” Dried lotus root slices have potential as jewelry. 

“Food doesn’t want to be clothing,” she says. She thought the seaweed would shimmer, but that was a dream. She’s given up using it to cover a jacket, opting for Chinese takeout menus instead. The “Let Them Eat Cake” fashions will be displayed throughout the exhibition, but true foodies appreciate the freshness of opening night. 

‘Stressed’ is just ‘desserts’ backward

“Sometimes things are late and last-minute, but it’s spectacular,” says Seitz. He says he stopped stressing over every detail after three or four years of The Art of Food. “It keeps getting better. Now we have a reputation, so the artists are zeroed-in. … I tell artists, ‘I love your work, now I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone.’ ” 

Lamb, who wants to design a collar and cuffs out of used coffee filters, says that despite loving the beverage, “I’m really out of my comfort zone on this. While I create narrative art quilts, I’ve never taken on a garment before and am keeping my fingers crossed.” 

“We’re in it to win it,” Kravetz says. Not all the artists and makeup designers knew one another when Kravetz brought them together in October, but ideas and support flowed quickly. “That’s the beauty of Cincinnati,” she says. “Every time you open your mouth (about a need), someone says, ‘I know someone.’ ” 

Seitz enjoys the progression he’s seen in Kravetz’s art and goals. Her first Art of Food work (2008) was a quilted Day of the Dead placemat. He thinks she didn’t venture far out of her zone in 2010 when she presented her well-known puppets interacting with cupcake towers, but then she introduced the live models.

“Now she’s going to blow it out of the water this year and bring in other artists and empower them,” Seitz says. “After what I saw last year, we can compete with anyone.” 

THE ART OF FOOD opening reception with chefs takes place 6-9 p.m. March 1. Tickets are $40, $25 Carnegie members, until 5 p.m. Friday; $50, $35 at the door. Closed March 2, then free through March 21; 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington;

Carnegie's Seitz hangs up his chef's hat

It’s natural that food references slip into Bill Seitz’s conversation. The Carnegie’s gallery director spent four years planning the first Art of Food. “I think about this show year-round,” he says. 

Officially, this seventh annual Art of Food is his last. Seitz, who arrived in 1995, is retiring to focus on art making and teaching. He’ll be back as a guest curator, and on March 4 he will transition to part-time while the Carnegie looks for a new gallery director. 

Or should the board search for a chef or maître’d? Managing the galleries is like owning a restaurant, Seitz says. “If you like what you see, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell me!”

The welcoming, casual Seitz has told the board to “get a hugger in here!” Hugging, he says, “makes me feel good and makes others feel good. You have to show appreciation.”

Though The Art of Food draws a sellout of more than 700, and the Carnegie’s calls to artists attract entrants nationwide, the Covington center is not in a location where visitors just pop in. “It’s a destination,” Seitz acknowledges. “Fifty percent of the visitors come from the other side of the river.” 

Therefore, Seitz considers the whole Carnegie experience. “You can’t just plop mashed potatoes on a plate and say, ‘Dinner’s ready.’ You need the meat, the bread.” A curator is like a chef who inevitably will serve a bad meal. “If I strike out on the art,” Seitz says, “hopefully the visitor’s experience with the people and the architecture will make the trip worthwhile.”

Seitz saw the beauty and historical value in the “old, worn-down, mistreated” Carnegie building in 1995, nearly a decade before renovations to the 1904 library and theater. “The mission (to showcase regional artists) drew me in,” he says. During the 13-year tenure of his predecessor, Arlene Gibeau, “the artists gave the identity that saved the building. They kept the pulse going.”

As a student of history, Seitz is true to old-fashioned ways. He expects students to study the long version before he shows them shortcuts. Putting things in food terms, Seitz asks them to compare a cake made from scratch with one whipped up from a box. 

Seitz’s master’s degree was in printmaking, but he’s done environmental sculpture, ceramics, drawing and painting. A current paper series called Faces in the Crowd examines stereotypes and tolerance. Next, he’ll try glassmaking.  

Will he also work with food? “I can’t imagine not,” he responds, adding that he’s surprised it hasn’t had a heavy influence on his art already.

“I’ll catch myself staring in a grocery store. I love presenting food. I’ll add a red pepper (to a plate) because I think I need red,” he says, even if the pepper doesn’t go with other flavors.

“Don’t be surprised once I get in the studio,” Seitz says. He’ll follow the advice he’s given students and artists in more than 500 Carnegie exhibitions: “Sometimes risk will give you the greatest reward.”