Curator Dasha Matsuura brings work by 32 artists to LA’s Hashimoto Contemporary for Potluck, on view now through 5 March. The gallery (which has locations in San Francisco and NYC) opened on La Cienega in September 2021, and Matsuura felt it was important to plan a major group show in their first year to foster conversation and community. The theme for Potluck—art and food—feels at once timeless and timely. “It’s the perfect combo,” Matsuura tells us. “The idea of gathering and being with people is definitely something we have all missed. I am excited to get to do this.”
Inside the gallery, light streams down from the skylights revealing vibrant images of fruit, fish, snacks and sweets lining the walls. From still lifes to tablescapes and scenes from daily life to fantasy dinner parties, Potluck features the works of a diverse group of artists sharing elements of family, tradition, identity, culture and discourse around food. Comprising 70+ pieces of work, the overall effect tells a colorful, thoughtful and appetizing story.
Matsuura’s family and upbringing influenced her desire to create conversation about food and art. Her mother grew up outside of Bratislava in what was then Czechoslovakia, and her father’s family is from Hiroshima, Japan. “I have a huge place in my heart for food and the community around that,” she says. “Growing up with Eastern European and Japanese family, they are not the most lovey-dovey people in the world. The way they show affection is by feeding you.”
While she was curating Potluck, Matsuura thought about how food plays significant roles in cultural associations, the diaspora, and how they are interconnected. The seed for the idea was planted in 2019, when artist Casey Gray showed Matsuura a few personal works on paper: a charcuterie board and a sheet pan with fish and carrots on it. They started talking about doing a food-themed show. The first iteration of the show in September 2019 was at Hashimoto Contemporary’s San Francisco space.
At first look, Potluck might stimulate an appetite or an impulse to rip open a lobster or stick a fork in a piece of cake, but the stories behind the pieces go deeper than cravings. Texas artist Loc Huynh’s “Holey Mackerel,” depicts his mother slicing a whole fish, while his dog naps on a pillow in the background. “It shows that nostalgia and relationship to parents,” says Matsuura. “Your parents may not tell you they love you all the time, but they will always ask you if you are hungry.”
The piece that makes Matsuura salivate is one of Steven Morrison‘s whimsical sculptures of bread, cheese, tomato and salami for the show. Matsuura picks up a “Rice Ball” and smiles, “I love onigiri and this one in particular.”
Miami-based artist Natalia Juncadella is drawn to painting bananas because they remind her of her mom making pan de banano. Her piece “Madurando” shows a bunch of bananas on a counter bathing in the sun, a memory Juncadella has of her mother waiting for the bananas to ripen enough for the recipe, while her father joked that they were already rotten. Jillian Evelyn (who grew up in Michigan) has a work in the show called “Blueberry,” inspired by her memories of picking blueberries along the road near her childhood home with the intention of baking a pie, but eating them all before getting home. Next to Sam Keller’s vibrant orange “Giant Cheetos” hangs Kristen Liu Wong’s “Spicy or Sad,” which depicts a woman eating a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with the bright red powder all over her face.
Brooklyn-based Sabrina Bockler‘s “The Bounty” evokes the style of a Dutch master still life with contemporary styling and hangs next to her painting of ripe melons and a blue lobster—both elaborately detailed and decadent. “Glunch,” an oil painting by ESAO (aka Esao Andrews), appears at first to be a straightforward minimalist place setting, but “on the plate is kind of a lettuce jellyfish kind of thing. Not anything that is real,” says Matsuura. “It’s fun and unsettling in a very surreal way.”
Photographer Stephanie Shih explores Asian influences in the traditional still life canon, like Van Gogh’s admiration for ukiyo-e prints. Shih recreates the setting of classic style, then codes her work with distinct Asian foods and props. In “Brueghel’s Breakfast” she weaves doughnuts from DK Donuts in LA to comment on how they are perceived as a quintessentially American food and one that many Asian immigrants made and sold. Shih’s “Onggi with Six Kimchi” features ceramic artist Eunbi’s onggi-inspired ceramic pots and handmade kimchi by Korilla Kimchi. Shih was inspired by watching the kimchi-making process, and the result is lush and mysterious.
A recurring theme stems from the isolation of the pandemic. Nicholas Zirk‘s “Picnic Ritual” imagines people gathering for a picnic. The images he painted at the beginning of the pandemic depict shared experiences when he remembers feeling adrift, but also experiencing the new reality as both frightening and magical. Spending more time at home, he was reminded of the importance of relationships. Zirk and other artists painted social gatherings as a way of remembering social connections and looking forward to reconnecting.
Throughout the show, Matsuura has created a balance between whimsical pieces and more serious works, all the while remaining true to the theme. “Having that playfulness is really important to me,” she says. “All of the pieces have an underlying component to them. Everyone has very specific stories around food that reveal memories, associations, and cultural identity. I find that really compelling.”
Hero image Maggie Cowls’ “Picky Eater,” courtesy of the artist