Darren Bader’s new exhibition “Fruits, Vegetables; Fruit and Vegetable Salad” at the Whitney Museum is an amalgam of sculpture and performance. What starts out as a display of various produce, transforms into an event involving museum staff and visitors. Equal parts exclusive and accessible, Bader’s exhibition will pique the interest of the seasoned museum goer and the casual attendee alike.
The Whitney’s top floor gallery is filled with pedestals arranged symmetrically in the middle of the room. Each houses a fruit or vegetable; the impressive pineapple is placed nearly in line with the tiny jalapeño. Viewers can walk through the organized maze and examine these everyday food items from all angles. Even a homely potato is elevated to the level of art and given a new sense of dignity.
Each viewer’s experience can be vastly different. Performances take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during a three hour window, so outside of those times, there is either fruit in different stages of decomposition, or no fruit at all. The performance of making the fruit and vegetable salad consists of museum staff collecting the fruit, and kitchen staff cutting up the fruit and physically preparing the salad on a live stream that projects on the wall of the gallery. Watching this live stream of an ordinary task taking place becomes something of intrigue in this specific setting. When the salad is prepared, the projection promptly disappears and a large bowl of the concoction is wheeled out to be served to the waiting guests.
In all honesty, the salad itself left something to be desired. Would one normally pair fennel and pineapple or raw potatoes and apples, roughly chopped and mixed in a spicy dressing? Probably not, but the final result isn’t the point of this anyway. As mentioned in the wall text, Bader’s work recalls Marcel Duchamp’s readymades in its playful yet thoughtful questioning of how we view art and familiar objects. The viewer and their specific experience play an integral part in the piece; it simply wouldn’t exist without them. Bader highlights the extraordinary aspects of everyday things as well as the importance of the passage of time. At any given moment, that pineapple may look slightly more withered, or it might look exactly the same as it did a few hours ago. The idea of bringing the everyday into the museum isn’t new, but it is still important.
At first glance the exhibition seems straightforward, but upon further inspection it is clearly not without intricacies and nuances. Rarely is pure anticipation, like that brought about by all the elements of the performance, seen in a traditional museum setting. While the final product may not be the tastiest snack, the journey to it is indeed thought provoking.