New MCNY exhibit explores what New Yorkers eat and why it matters

September 8, 2022

Mary Mattingly, Biosphere, 2015. Courtesy of Mary Mattingly, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York dives into the “powerful connections” between New Yorkers and food. Called Food in New York: Bigger Than the Plate, the indoor-outdoor show features the work of more than 20 artists that explores the city’s food systems and the challenges that come with it. Food in New York opens on September 16.

“Food is the lifeblood of New York City, and so many of the stories that we share about the city center on the ways in which food connects us to each other, to our culture, and to nature,” Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of MCNY, said.

Donhauser continued: “Many of the biggest issues we face globally—from the climate crisis to public health and workers’ rights—are inseparable from how and what we eat. This exhibition serves up a generous portion of the history of the food industry in the city, along with an ample helping of ideas about how we all can get involved and address the issues at hand today.”

Originating at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the exhibition has been readapted to fit the culinary tendencies and food systems of New York City. Food in New York tackles important issues related to food systems like sustainability, resiliency, labor justice, and fair access to food.

The exhibition is centered around three main themes: producing, trading, and eating.

The first theme explores how food has been produced in the NYC area starting with the indigenous communities who lived here before colonization. This theme also explores how the outsourcing and deindustrialization of the city have created vulnerabilities in the city’s food systems, revealed further during Hurricane Sandy and the pandemic.

Under the “trading” theme, the exhibition explains how for more than 200 years the city has offered an unparalleled variety of foods provided by an even more diverse network of vendors and restaurants.

The exhibit’s final section delves into food system fragility and brings light to innovators who are trying to improve the culinary experiences of New Yorkers by creating affordable, accessible, and sustainable ways to eat.

Displayed throughout the exhibit is the work of more than 20 contemporary artists who have used their artistic vision to “imagine solutions to key global and local food-related challenges,” according to a press release.

The centerpiece of the gallery will be Mary Mattingly’s Biosphere, a “structural ecosystem that will be growing native plants in saltwater.”

Food in New York includes the presentation of numerous rarely-displayed objects from the MCNY’s collection of approximately 750,000 items. One highlight is Charles Frederick and William Mielatz’s photographs of downtown Manhattan from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Accompanying the exhibition are several events, talks, and tastings. Taking place on September 16 at 6 p.m., “Cocktails & Culture” is a free opening party with BBQ, beer, and live music.

Co-presented by the Museum of Food and Drink, “Halal and the City” presents a history of halal food and how it fits into New York City dining. Tickets cost $40.


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