Eight dishes of rice are set out on a table, colored and patterned to resemble the flags of politically powerful countries, including Germany, France, China, and the United States. Also on the table are menus, printed with the words of each country’s national anthem, telling the percentage of dye contained in each flag, and comparing mealtimes in different parts of the world. Over time the flags turn into strange, colorless, mold-filled shapes.
Antoni Miralda conceived Patriotic Banquet in the early 1970s, but he never presented it. A major retrospective of his work, opening on June 24, will show it for the first time. The exhibition is up through September 27, and will take place at the Palacio de Velázquez, a space in Madrid’s Retiro Park managed by the Reina Sofía Museum. Organized by independent curator Daniela Tilkin, it will feature the artist’s work from the ’60s onward. Its title is “De Gustibus Non Disputandum” (There Is No Disputing about Tastes).
At 67, Miralda—who goes by his surname only—is looking back on a pioneering career as a food artist. Long before Rirkrit Tiravanija and Jennifer Rubell began their interactive culinary adventures, Miralda was staging events and installations involving food. There was his “Wheat & Steak’ parade in Kansas City, Missouri, and a Thanksgiving dinner for the animals at the Bronx Zoo. In 1977 he created Breadline at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, featuring a line of bread slices, dyed red, orange, and blue, that extended throughout the museum, as well as video monitors showing workers preparing meals in seven different restaurant kitchens.
The retrospective will include photographs of Breadline, along with video monitors showing the original footage. “It’s what you see today on the Food Channel—except it’s grainy and black and white,” Miralda, a Barcelona native who currently lives in Miami, says. “I am interested in transmitting the energy that was of that time.”
Santa Comida (Holy Food), first shown in 1984 at El Museo del Barrio in New York, will have a thorough restaging in its own room. The piece brings together imagery and objects from Latin American and African cultures, with an emphasis on Cuba and Brazil. The piece’s seven original altars will be displayed, each one framed with a new border of “yams, sugar cane, plantains, peanuts, okra, Indian corn, guava paste, coconuts, black-eyed beans, popcorn, and salted codfish,” Miralda says. A table swathed in a gauzy red fabric will be covered with a pile of forks, spoons, and knives.
Artifacts and photographs will give viewers a sense of “Honeymoon Project” (1986–92), a series of events and exhibitions that explored the idea of a “wedding ceremony” between the Statue of Liberty and a statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona. Miralda’s Food Culture Museum, a “museum without walls” that stages events, will be represented by a photograph of a food counter in the shape of the mathematical symbol for infinity.
But the artist is most excited about the debut of Patriotic Banquet, with its plates of decaying rice. “When it has worms, we’ll put it under Plexiglas, and we’ll keep it as a piece of art,” he says.