The recent opening of six new galleries devoted to contemporary art at the National Museum of Art in Cardiff has turned the museum into one of Britain’s best. It has long been famous for its Impressionist and post-Impressionist works (e.g., Corot, Millet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rodin, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Sisley) collected by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. However, the new extension enables the museum to strike a better balance and to show much more of its art collection, from 16th Century paintings through to very recently-completed site-specific works, including a slate circle by Richard Long and an installation of bird boxes by Carwyn Evans.
Canvases by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin and Graham Sutherland, rub shoulders with works by Welsh artists, who make up the core of the collection, including Kyffin Williams, Ceri Richards, Augustus and Gwen John, Josef Herman and Shani Rhys James.
Among the new contemporary art on show, is one piece directly relating to food. Counter Culture II is an installation by the artist group Common Culture, which was first produced in 1997. It is made up of light-box menu displays, of the sort found above the counters in fast-food outlets. The framing of these ‘ready-made’ light boxes in a gallery makes us look at them in a different light.
The artists are using the signs to investigate British identity, with the multi-cultural cuisine reflecting traces of Britain’s colonial past. They are also interested in the intersection between so-called high and low art.
Rather than pinch something from McDonalds, the artists worked with a sign-maker to produce a typical range of menus (using fictitious names) that reflected the kitsch commercial artwork and range of food items found along, say, Caroline Street or City Road in Cardiff:
Chicken Tikka Masala (Britain’s most popular fast food dish), Lamb Donor, Apple Pie, Fish & Chips, Adana Kofte, Fried Chicken, Quarter Pounder, Veggie Burger, Chips & Gravy, Sweet & Sour Pork Balls.