An Epicurean Re-Birth: Expect Eels and Fertility Rituals at Jennifer Rubell’s Next Food Performance

Scene from Jennifer Rubell's "Creation," 2009.Photo by Andrew Russeth

Scene from Jennifer Rubell’s “Creation,” 2009.


Jennifer Rubell’s Creation—a kind of buffet-themed performance piece that served as the opening night event for the Performa biennial in New York in 2009—is one of those rare parties that people still talk about, five years later, in reverent tones. (“Compared with the strictures of most benefit dinners it seemed like heaven, or some gourmet-version of summer camp,” Roberta Smith wrote at the time; “I know this sounds psycho, but her 2009 dinner art thing was the most absurd, decadent thing ever created. 1,000 pounds of ribs on a white pedestal with honey dripping from the ceiling! Very special,” a colleague said to me yesterday.)

Creation immediately branded Rubell, a former hotelier who had been known for throwing lavish private parties for the art world elite (her parents are the collectors Don and Mera Rubell), as a performance artist for foodies. This November, she’ll be coordinating Performa’s tenth anniversary party, called “Paradiso: A Tribute to the Renaissance.” (Performa, which also organizes itself around a historical theme, has picked that movement as the subject for its next biennial in 2015.) Rubell’s contribution will be a “live food performance” called Fecunditas. The event will honor “Renaissance Women”–a category Rubell herself fits into—including artists Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons.

“It’s a piece that deals with the fertility of the creative act,” Rubell said in a phone interview. “It’s the piece I’ve done that most explicitly deals with sexuality and difference between the sexes, and the kind of comedy of that. It’s deeply participatory. Everybody there is complicit, whether they’re an honoree or someone attending the event or someone working there.”

She said RoseLee Goldberg, Performa’s founder, reached out to her about doing something and “sent over a hundred pounds of books,” from which Rubell immediately developed an idea. She wouldn’t say much more about it now other than that the piece “deals with this visceral sexuality in relation to the creative spark,” though she did offer a bit of a clue.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time with eels lately,” she said, “and I find them to be deeply fascinating creatures. They’re this serpent-like creature, but they’re also much more related to a fish like flounder than a snake. They’re kind of fundamentally protective, and I love that quality.”

As for how her extravagant performances, which tap into the general hedonism that defines much of the art world, come together, Rubell said, “I just work with the best person in town.” For her trough of ribs that were served at Creation, she worked with chef Adam Perry Lang. The enormous chocolate bunnies in the shape of a Jeff Koons sculpture were done by Jacques Torres because, Rubell said, he told her “the only reason I’m doing it is because there’s no one else in New York that could do this.” For Fecundita, she’ll be working with Bite, the same catering company that helped with Creation.

“In another lifetime, I could have been a military commander,” Rubell said. “There’s a lot of logistics, but in a lot of ways, it’s simpler and more direct than some regular dinner for 300 people.”

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