A Chocolate Art History

When Man Ray visited the town of Rouen, he little expected to encounter the object of Marcel Duchamp’s boyhood affection:

…You never told me about the Broyeuse de Chocolat. I had to find out for myself. It was a pleasure, a much greater pleasure to find out by myself. Would it be an indiscretion on my part to relate that, walking down the streets of Rouen with my back to the lopsided steeples of the cathedral, I was overcome by a most delicious odor of chocolate which grew stronger as I advanced? And then, there they were, in a window, those beautifully polished steel drums churning around in the soft brown yielding mass of exquisite aroma? Later when questioned, you admitted your pure school-boy love. Ton amour-propre. I translate freely1

The two artists had collaborated extensively in New York and Paris, perhaps most famously on Elevage de poussières (Dust Breeding) (1920), Man Ray’s photographic documentation of the accumulation of air-born particles on Duchamp’s painting on glass La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, meme (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even) (1915-23). Also called The Large Glass, it was a summary of Duchamp’s esoteric imagery and highly influential ideas, illuminating his concept of the “fourth dimension,” where industrious lovemaking took place between pieces of erotic machinery. The male organ in this futuristic affair was a gelded chocolate grinder, stripped of its mechanism down to an impressive but inoperative drum. “The bachelor,” Duchamp wrote, “grinds his chocolate himself.”2

Much has been made of the iconography of this machine within Duchamp’s art. But what of the confection itself? Typical of the titillating, teasing nature of his art, Duchamp’s grinder stands empty of its essential ingredient.3 Even so, Man Ray recognized its source in Rouen, following his nose through the streets, stumbling upon the chocolate-laden mechanism as if upon a missing body—still vital, fragrant, and warm.

With chocolate as both subject and object, the works in this exhibition take up from Man Ray’s encounter with Duchamp’s inspiration. Chocolate! concerns both the sacred and profane, the industrial and the erotic, purely physiological sensations and more intimate memories of things past: in short all of chocolate’s rich appeals and intense associations.

Chocolate makes its first significant appearance as an art material during the 1960s, when artists took conceptual cues from Duchamp, Dada, and Surrealism, and began making art from the incidents, objects, and materials of everyday life. Among the first to include chocolate in this embrace were members of the Fluxus movement. Food—the collaborative dynamics of which obscures the issue of authorship—seemed to naturally lend itself to the Fluxus concept of art as an exchange of energies. One of the movement’s authors, George Brecht, defined Fluxus as a collective unrest with conventional modes of art-making, shared by artists who “have discovered each other’s work and found it nourishing (or something) and have grown objects and events which are original, and often uncategorizable, in a strange new way.”4

A communicative property, Fluxus art traveled the world primarily via the post. Alluding to, among other things, Joseph Beuys’ sealed plastic envelope containing chocolate and margarine entitled Künstlerpost (1969), one critic writes:

…strange paste-ups bordering on the forbidden flew across the Atlantic, boxes that rattled and wheezed were delivered by bewildered mailmen, lumpy packages were often “lost,” others were opened and resealed by clerks who surely couldn’t grasp the meaning of a monogrammed chocolate bar.5

As early as 1961, Swiss Fluxus artist Daniel Spoerri was stamping food items “Art Work” and selling them at supermarket prices at Galerie Köpcke in Copenhagen. For Spoerri, food represented one of two essential urges, the other being sex, which he wanted to make manifest through art. He experienced cooking as symbolic of the universal life cycle and developed his work accordingly.6 Spoerri prepared elaborate menus for his meals and monuments to their consumption with conceptual sculptures that consisted of each dinner’s plates, utensils, and left-over food affixed to panels of the sawed-off table top. He designated these sculptural tableaux-pièges occur at the end of the meal, when dinner is at its most decrepit stage and the culinary life cycle that began with the chef’s creative coupling of raw ingredients has run its course.

In 1968, having already hosted a number of such dinners throughout Europe, Daniel Spoerri realized a plan (first outlined in a letter of 1957) to open a restaurant.7 Restaurant Spoerri was located below the gallery the artist ran in Dusseldorf, called Eat Art. Together, the two spaces served as a locus for Fluxus and Nouveau Realisme (a European brand of Pop Art) for activities involving food. The program included invitational exhibitions, installations, meals, and multiples. For example, Spoerri consigned Jasper Johns, Lucio Fontana, and Frank Stella, among others, to design cakes for a 1970 Eat-Art-Banquet prepared by professional chefs. Sometimes chocolate was featured in the program, as when Bernhard Luginbühl, Jean Tinguely’s Swiss colleague, created Schoggiflügelmutterfigur, an edition of chocolate propellers, in 1970.

Spoerri himself confected the original “Schokoladenscheissdreckröllchen” in 1969-70; the chocolate cake is reinterpreted in this exhibition according to the artist’s instructions, which include a dedication to Piero Manzoni. In a food-driven paradigm of creativity, excrement naturally plays a role. For an unrealized film scenario, Spoerri proposed:

…begin with a close-up of a pile of freshly shat shit, then show its return, in reverse motion, into the body and through the intestines (X-rays) and then stomach, on through the reconstruction of the chewed food, as it leaves the mouth, into a steak which is returned to the butcher, who replaces it on the beef, which, revived, ends the film grazing in a green and sunny meadow, and dropping a big fresh pad of dung, of course.8

In this exhibition, Spoerri’s coprophilic proposition is sweetly realized through chocolate. The “little shit roll” decorations, plopped in a ring around a great gold-leafed pile in the center of the cake, appear almost palatable homages to Manzoni’s famous sealed tins of Merda d’artista (1961).

For Fluxus associate Joseph Beuys, chocolate fed into a larger surplus of goods—felt, fat, and flashlights—all associated in his work with maternal warmth and survival. Moreover, it had the almost alchemical properties Beuys admired in materials that, depending on temperature, shifted between liquid and solid states. In Zwei Fräulein mit leuchtendem Brot (1966), a bar of chocolate joins two sections of a scrolling band of concrete poetry, acting like a hilly landscape passage in a text which begins, “two women with shining bread, travel via…”9 What follows is a nonsensical checklist that starts with “Télégraphe,” and continues with other stops on the Paris metro. The chocolate crops up after the “Pyrénées” stop creating a pause in the text, as if for a particularly difficult passage, that picks up again with the women now “returning.” They initially seem to follow the suggestive landscape of the candy bar, “Pyramides,” “Pyramidale,” “Pyramidon,” until the list dissolves into alliteration and proper names and finally ends where it began at “Télégraphe.” Perhaps in an effort to stave off the effects of blooming, Beuys painted the chocolate candy bar. (In chocolate parlance, “blooming” is the natural separation of fatty and solid substances that causes the surface to look white and chalky over time.) Covered in a coat of brown paint, this bar continues to appear shining and brown.

Using chocolate and other foods, such as milk and cheese, to more Rabelaisian effect, Dieter Roth expressed an ambivalence towards permanence when he declared, “Not all art is eternal.”10 P.o.t.A.a.Vfb   (Portrait of the Artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [Bird Food Bust]) (1969) was a series of small chocolate heads posted on boards, like suet statuettes available for perching and pecking. Even without avian intervention, the surface has grown pocked and pitted with time. Roth’s choice of chocolate and crudely rendered style of self-depiction reflects an image found in an autobiographical statement the artist made in 1976:

D. Roth was born forty-six years ago…when the cannibal, awful Hitler, Adolf, was just getting the Germans going at their best hit, butchering war. Hell was loose, but Roth survived, shitting and pissing in his timid pants, poor shaking little turd…11

 Since 1968, Roth has recast this on-going chocolate self-portrait from these original manifestations. Roth envisioned the first one installed in a very perfunctory backyard fashion on a broom-stick pedestal, but, since 1969, he has also been accumulating the busts and stacking them on shelves into one monumental structure, the so-called I-Tower (“Selbstturm”). In 1989, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Basel allocated a room to the tower project, along with its companion piece, the Lion-Tower (“Löwenturm”) whose subject Roth conceived of in 1970 as a tribute to the woman he was living with then, born under the astrological sign of Leo. Like Bluebeard’s secret chamber, the door to the tower room is locked—a key is obtainable for the asking; Roth himself stops by from time to time to confect some fresh portraits in the small kitchenette. Overall, the installation is reminiscent of an archeological department, with unearthed treasures organized in relation to their sequence of excavation, all of them awaiting interpretive digestion.

Bringing these experiments with the ephemeral and eternal into the commercial realm of Pop Art, Californian Ed Ruscha executed a series of drawings and paintings using chocolate and other organic materials, such as berry juice and egg yolk. “Well,” Ruscha said in a recent interview, “I sometimes refer to it as my ‘romance with liquids’ period, for lack of a better title… It was 1970 and I didn’t do any painting. It was the idea of putting a skin on a canvas that began to irritate me. I hated paint on canvas. And so ‘staining’ came out of that.”12 In Well, Roughly (1971), chocolate and rose petals were pummelled into the fibers of the canvas to fill in the outlines of graphic lettering. The stained words create a poetic tautology of the title’s references to hesitation and aggression, delicacy and crudeness. As opposed to a still-life representation, this is a real-life memento mori, wrought from crushed flowers and foodstuffs that promise to fade and perhaps gradually vanish with age.



The emperor took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and other spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth. This beverage, if so it could be called, was served in golden goblets, with spoons of the same metal or of tortoise-shell finely wrought.

William Hickling Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico, (1843).13

 The forays that led artists during the late I960s to experiment with new materials established chocolate as a medium for contemporary art. But chocolate also comes vested with its own histories and meanings. Since people first concocted it, chocolate—which takes its name from the Mayan xocoatl and Aztec chocolatl—has been imbued with strong ritual, alimentary, and sensual powers. In Aztec culture, where cacao beans were bartered as payment for taxes, priests drank chocolate during religious ceremonies. King Montezuma was reported to have imbibed an inspirational concoction of chocolate mixed with psilocybin mushrooms as part of his coronation, and thereafter regularly enjoyed an unadulterated cupful before retiring to bed. Among the plunder Cortez took from Mexico to Spain were chocolate and gold. The rest of Europe had to wait for the marriage of a Spanish princess to a French king in 1660, when her dowry included the exotic new food. Thus introduced as a signifier of love and luxury, chocolate was served by eighteenth century courtesans to their lovers. Writing in the nineteenth century, French epicurean Brillat-Savarin commented: “Persons who take chocolate commonly enjoy pretty good health, and are less subject than other people to trifling complaints…” These claims persist in today’s chocolate lore.



And in two minutes my mouth was full of fresh bread, and melting chocolate, and as we sat gingerly, the three of us, on the frozen hill, looking down into the valley where Vercingetorix had fought so splendidly, we peered shyly and silently at each other and smiled and chewed at one of the most satisfying things I have ever eaten. I thought vaguely of the metamorphosis of wine and bread—

M.F.K. Fisher, The Pale Yellow Glove, 1937.14

An ancient celebration of spring, Easter takes its name from the Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre—a harbinger of life after the death of winter. It dovetailed nicely with the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ, which appropriated many of the pagan symbols of rebirth, including rabbits, hens, chicks, and eggs, lately cast in chocolate for holiday gift giving. A ready-made mold for a chocolate rabbit, Joseph Beuys’ Untitled (1978) earmarks the intersection between Celtic and Christian myths, traditions which in turn substantively informed Beuys’ work as a whole. For Beuys, who once tried to teach the meaning of art to a dead hare and whose oeuvre is replete with Celtic references, rabbits were important figures. Not only are they a traditional symbol of fertility, but as burrowing animals, they live close to the earth, the source of all goodness—spiritual and otherwise—in Beuys’ personal cosmos. The stuff of earth was further manifested in Beuys’ art through his frequent use of an industrial paint, which he called Braunkreuz. Literally meaning “brown-cross,” a reference to the Nazi brownshirts, Braunkreuz represented the intersection between the political and spiritual in Beuys’ art. The color of the chocolate rabbit—unmade but imagined—approximates its reddish brown hue.

Chocolate Jesus may strike some as blasphemy, but Fluxus artist Larry Miller cites the Egyptian god Osiris, who was eaten en route to greater godliness, as another example, beyond Catholic communion, of food as an expression of religious reverence. His sculpture has a performative element. In its first apparition, A Cross (1969) was nailed to a gallery wall, but when summer temperatures transformed it into a runny strip and a blob on the baseboard, it was retitled Mass. The work in this exhibition, A Cross (1969-present) involves three cruciforms made at various times in a glass case, each at a different stage of transmogrification into dust alluding to ashes. There are also more recent casts available for eating, provided that the consumer signs a waiver releasing the manufacturer/artist “of all liability for any physical, mental and spiritual consequences.”15

Part of the Catalan Easter festival, the mona was originally a simple cake, decorated with an egg, which a godparent presented to a godchild on Palm Sunday.16 Over time, however, the mona has grown into a more elaborate edible, especially in Barcelona, where there is a old tradition of chocolate candy-making. In 1980, Antoni Miralda commissioned twenty-one of the city’s top confectioners to each contribute their favorite landmark, rendered in chocolate, to a diorama of Barcelona. Against a backdrop painted in pink-, blue-, and yellow-tinted chocolate looms the Palau Nacional Parc de Montjuic, the towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the Plaça de Toros, and Copito Blanco, the albino ape at the Barcelona zoo. The installation was presented at the Galería Joan Prats in the Rambla de Catalunya on Easter day; the invitation was, of course, made of chocolate.17

Like Miralda and Spoerri, Martina Eberle is an artist whose edible artworks cater to specific events. In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, Eberle bought dozens of chocolate Easter bunnies and set them up on two tiers of a rotating pink platform under a circle of theatrical lights. As the temperature mounted under the hot bulbs, a torrent of action was unleashed: sugar eyeballs slid down runny bunny faces, ears toppled over tearing off loosened heads, while the artist scooped up the drips and served them to onlookers In the end, a molten mass was all that remained. These pathetic ruins are a grotesque abstraction such as Georges Bataille might have envisioned in his art of the informe—a surreal art that subverts the government of formal structure into an anarchic formlessness. Eberle’s apocalypse returns her once-beautiful subjects to the sort of primordial ooze from whence they came.



The story is told that in the seventeenth century Mexican ladies used to interrupt their church service by having their maids bring them cups of hot chocolate during mass. The Bishop was much displeased and warned them to stop the practice, but the ladies refused and so the Bishop excommunicated them from the church. For doing this he was poisoned, and died.

Alma H. Austin, The Romance of Candy, 193818

On Easter Sunday morning in 1973, the avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman made her debut as “The Ultimate Easter Bunny” in a piece called Candy, created for her by Jim McWilliams and performed on the thirteenth floor of the Clocktower Gallery in New York. Winding up an account of the day’s sermons and parades, The New York Times reported:

…The concert, conceived by Jim McWilliams, a happening artist, called for Miss Moorman and her cello to be coated with 60 pounds of chocolate fudge supplied by Savoia Bakery. She played in a setting of green cellophane grass with 20 dozen painted eggs strewn about, and she played what she described as “chocolate Easter music.”19

Another “nude, chocolate-smeared young woman”—as Rowland Evans and Robert Novak dubbed performance artist Karen Finley in their nationally syndicated newspaper column—was met with considerably less tolerance by the media. Finley and three other solo performers became known as the NEA Four when the National Endowment for the Arts yielded to political pressure and, in an unprecedented reaction, denied grants to the artists despite their being endorsed by the NEA recommendation panel. The now infamous images of Finley sprinkling heart-shaped candies, alfalfa sprouts, and tinsel on her chocolate-covered body are only a small passage within a longer piece entitled We Keep Our Victims Ready, of which Finley performed a first version in 1989 at Sushi Gallery in San Diego. Mocking what women are supposed to be—“delectable sweeties”—she screams: “SMEAR CHOCOLATE ALL OVER BODY UNTIL YOU ARE A HUMAN SHIT—EAT SUZY Q’s, CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHERRIES…”20 Finley says she intended her work as an aggressive attack against misogyny, with chocolate serving as a potent symbol of the verbal and physical abuses women are subjected to. “When I smear chocolate on my body it is a symbol of women being treated like dirt…”21 The impact of her politically-charged chocolate statement reverberates at the core of a debate that is still raging around the question of moral standards, their place in art and their authority.

Although quite different in tones and intentions, both Finley’s and Moorman’s works create pornographic images, with chocolate-smeared women representing an erotic invitation to pleasure or a grotesque display of humiliation.22 In the writings of the Marquis de Sade, chocolate is the food of both libertines and their victims, providing sustenance for any number of forms of transgressive behavior. As Barbara Lekatsas observes in her essay, “Inside the Pastilles of the Marquis de Sade,” chocolate is the vehicle for poison meted out in Justine, a delicacy frequently served in the 120 Days of Sodom, along with the finest wines, urine and turds, and, in life, practically the legal undoing of the Marquis himself.23 Throughout the writings of de Sade, chocolate turns up regularly between orgies of sex and violence. Commenting on this theme, Lekatsas quotes Roland Barthes, who writes:

Sadean chocolate ends up by functioning as the pure sign of this dual alimentary economy…the victim’s food is always copious, for two libertine reasons: first, these victims too must be refreshed…and fattened up to furnish vice with fat dimpled “altars”; second, coprophagic passion demands an “abundant, delicate soft food”…Thus the function of food in the Sadean city: to restore, to poison, to fatten, to evacuate; everything planned in relation to vice.24

 Chocolate is a form of currency in the Marquis’ world of inverted morality, where cruelty and excess are rewarded at the expense of innocence and virtue. With their opposed imageries of bitter punishment and sweet reward, Finley’s and Moorman’s chocolate-smeared women might be seen as the flip sides of the coin of the realm. Janine Antoni’s series Lick and Lather (1993) comes up a conflicted combination of the two. These pairs of 19th-century style self-portrait busts, one made of chocolate, the other of soap, create a face-off between pleasure and purity, indulgence and restraint. What appears to be the effects of time are actually the results of self-mutilation and suppression. The artist bathed with the soap heads in the tub and licked the chocolate ones mute so that the features of both heads appear smoothed down to near anonymity.

Like Roth, Antoni has worked extensively in chocolate. Of her monumental Chocolate Gnaw (1992), covered with tooth-marks and other violent signs of desperate consumption, she told an interviewer how her choice of chocolate as a material led her to develop the work’s conceptual core:

I started with the idea that I wanted to chew on a 600 pound cube of chocolate. I took the first bite and then, whether I swallowed it or spit it out decided the meaning. When I spit it out, I knew I wanted to make the spit-out part into something else. Then it occurred to me that this was related to bulimia. So I started researching bulimia and found out that chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical produced by the body in love—so from the gnawed chocolate I produced hearts.25

Antoni’s works have been seen as a critique of minimalism, returning the presence of a desiring, uncontrolled body to that paradigm’s pristine and ordered program. Chocolate Gnaw was followed by a cube of lard of the same size, which the artist also nibbled and chewed on. Those bits were later shaped into lipsticks.

Women and chocolate have a complicated relationship. As Diane Barthel-Bouchier points out in her preceding essay, “chocoholics” are predominantly female. (Men tend to crave meat.)26 Chemically a stimulant, chocolate is considered addictive; it contains both caffeine and phenylethylamine, the endorphin associated with physical highs like exercise and orgasms.27 A recent study, Why Women Need Chocolate, suggested the craving has at its source the desire for fertile and healthy reproductive bodies, turning chocolate consumption into a survival mechanism for the entire species.28 Women’s biological needs are countered by their fear of over-indulgence, symptomatic of the sometimes perversely difficult female relationship between food and body. Artist Anya Gallaccio observed of the reaction to her installation Bite the Bullet (1992), which featured a heap of chocolate guns surrounded by a spray of real bullets, that men tended to focus on the impotence of the candy weapons, while women recognized in the phallically-cast chocolate a dangerously self-destructive appetite.

Jana Sterbak’s Catacombs (1992)—a skull and other bones cast in extra-bitter chocolate—might be seen as a generally dark-humored take on death-by-chocolate. However, seen in conjunction with earlier works by Sterbak, specifically Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorexic (1987), a gown stitched from raw steaks, the bones take on a more intricate and gendered reading. In Western culture, catacombs and vanitas serve as reminders of the transience of existence. In Sterbak’s art, as the gown gradually cures and hardens into a translucent carapace and the chocolate bones whiten and eventually turn to dust, desiccated bodies pose a fragile barrier between life and death. With vanity a weakness traditionally ascribed to women in their role as commodities of men’s desire, these works also seem to signify the end of a particularly unhealthy relationship between the female body and the food which made her flesh. However, in these chocolate bones lies the peculiar contradiction between a martyr’s program of austerity and denial and the flagrant luxury and self indulgence of gorging oneself to death on chocolate. This ambiguity brings Sterbak’s Catacombs up short of the simple moral purpose of a traditional vanitas, leaving it open to a life of tantalizing speculation.

By her own design, Hannah Wilke appears as both consumer and consumed in Venus Pareve (1982), a series of casts originally done in chocolate. According to Jewish dietary law, pareve signifies that a food contains neither milk nor meat, and can therefore be eaten with anything. Thus the beautiful Wilke offers up the mythic Roman goddess of love with her own religious seal of approval. In anticipation of the day when the chocolate figurines ran out, Wilke cast an additional edition of forty in plaster, painted in vibrant monochromes. Wilke, whose given name was Arlene Hannah Butter, claims to have grown up with an erotic awareness of her body in relationship to food: “As an American girl born with the name Butter in 1940, I was often confused when I heard what it was like to be used, to be spread, to feel soft, to melt in your mouth.”29 Like butter, chocolate also melts just below body temperature, producing a pleasant cooling sensation on the tongue. It also has additional associations with eros and addiction. Wilke’s chocolate torsos have the potential of fulfilling her precocious fantasies of being licked and eaten, at the same time as they embody a certain narcissistic conceptual strategy. The artist’s plaster sculptures outlast the chocolate ones: Having entrapped the viewer’s attention by way of a simple weakness for chocolate (or is it flesh?), Wilke redirects that desire to a material both inert and inedible.


…(Julia) felt in the pockets of her overalls and produced a small slab of chocolate. She broke it in half and gave one of the pieces to Winston. Even before he had taken it he knew by the smell that it was very unusual chocolate. It was dark and shiny, and was wrapped in silver paper. Chocolate normally was dull-brown crumbly stuff that tasted…like the smoke of rubbish fire. But at some time or another he had tasted chocolate like the piece she had given him. The first whiff of its scent had stirred up some memory which he could not pin down, but which was powerful and troubling.

George Orwell, 1984, 1949.30

For the 35th Venice Biennale, Ed Ruscha produced Chocolate Room. The year was 1970, and many of Ruscha’s compatriots who were slated to participate in this international exhibition declined to do so, as part of a mass protest against the American government’s involvement with the Vietnam War.31 Ultimately Ruscha’s room became a format for dissent, and even an allegory of destructive intervention. The gallery was completely shingled with sheets of paper (360 in all) silkscreened entirely over in Nestlé chocolate. Throughout the course of the exhibition, visitors graffitied the walls—using moistened fingertips to write through the chocolate—with anti-war sentiments. Finally phalanxes of Venetian ants attacked the remains, creating a beautiful tracery prior to actually destroying the piece.32

A common luxury cultivated in colonial outposts throughout the non-industrialized world and manufactured by multinational corporations, chocolate is the product of global politics and world economies. In 1981, Hans Haacke captured the questionable relationship between big business and culture when he made contemporary art collector and chocolate baron Peter Ludwig the subject of a work entitled Pralinenmeister (The Chocolate Master) (1981). The piece consists of a series of seven diptychs, each photo-silkscreened with a portrait of Ludwig, a candy bar wrapper from one of Ludwig’s Monheim Group subsidiaries, and a text detailing how chocolate’s gross earnings have helped leverage Ludwig’s cultural and economic ambitions.33

Although no candy per se was involved in Haacke’s work, chocolate effectively stands for capitalist culture, prefiguring its actual appearance in British sculptor Helen Chadwick’s Special Relationship (1995). In this model of British and American relations during the Ronald Reagan/ Margaret Thatcher years, two giant bars of Cadbury’s chocolate are beset by huge live cockroaches. (Cadbury’s purveys to the Queen; roaches eat anything.) Everything is inflated, except the size of the vitrine, which just barely houses the bugs and their rich food. One anticipates that over time, the insects will have either gorged themselves to death or exploded their population into unsustainable numbers, bringing a predictably unhappy close to this affair.34

While Haacke and Chadwick use chocolate to ponder issues of empire, the collaborative team of Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio focuses on this consumer product in the context of everyday life. As part of Culture in Action, an ambitious city-wide public art project held in Chicago during the summer of 1993, the artists facilitated the packaging of a limited edition chocolate candy bar by members of the Bakery Confectionery and Tobacco Workers Union, Local 552. Going against the grain of popular marketing practices, which tend to remove any vestiges of labor from the eyes (and conscience) of a consumer, the workers named their product “We Got It!,” and put an American flag as well as their portraits and signatures on the wrapper. All of these decisions were democratically voted upon; the combination of purple and yellow was inspired by the clothing of one of the participants. With billboards emblazoning the city, the bar sold successfully throughout the duration of the exhibition, making chocolate the popular currency in a project whose overall aim was to incorporate communities typically disenfranchised by museum culture.

Four Walls, an art gallery in Brooklyn, New York, invited twelve artists to design chocolate bonbons that would be produced and sold as a multiple to benefit the Four Walls Slide and Film Club.35 Elaine Tin-Nyo’s string of beads cast from white chocolate brings to mind the old adage about pearls before swine. Drawing attention to the phallus shape of the traditional bar, Fred Tomaselli came up with a bi-purpose “Hershey’s,” good for “He” or “she” just by erasing a few of the letters. (This work is reminiscent of the series of Bog Queen collage drawings (1960-80) by neo-Dadaist Al Hansen, who used cut-outs of just the “she” part of the same candy bar’s wrapper.) Polly Apfelbaum, a self-declared chocoholic, confected her own “Polly” bar.

Barbara Bloom joins Antoni, Apfelbaum, Roth, and Wilke in the pantheon of artists who have commemorated themselves in chocolate. As part of her installation project The Reign of Narcissism (1989), she produced the series Portrait Chocolate: Bloom. These tastefully packaged pastilles, each one molded with a profile of the artist, were one of a number of souvenir-type items that included classically re-styled portrait busts, tombstones, and cameos all in honor of Barbara Bloom. They fit into a larger discourse on accumulative impulse and vanity, presented in the form of a “Guide Book.”36 This included parables excerpted from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Virginia Woolf’s The Lady and the Looking-Glass, for example, that together with Bloom’s self-absorbed objects speculate on the potential of achieving immortality through art. Catalogued like objects of virtue and illustrated together on a page in the guide book are a Queen Wilhelmina peppermint, a Queen Victoria and Prince Albert chocolate coin, and an Egyptian mummy-mask chocolate produced by Harrod’s of London, suggesting a noble, even transcendent purpose in Bloom’s own candy, which appears alongside them. For those with less particular palettes, Stephen Shanabrook has honored anonymous folk with boxes of chocolate body-parts cast at morgues in Russia (Evisceration of Waited Moments, 1993), and Ohio (Unidentified, 1993). Reflective of what Shanabrook found to be the bigger picture at each locale, most of those commemorated in the first box died from natural causes, while the latter box observes more violent endings, such as deaths by gun-shot wounds. All the candies are wrapped in brilliantly-colored foil.

For an artists’ residency program called Furkart, based in a former inn located high on a peak in the Swiss Alps, Swiss artist Ian Anüll created an untitled edition of chocolate bars. Images of flying saucers on the front of the wrapper were somewhat demystified by three smaller photographs on the backside. The first was a joke-photo taken from a 1950 April Foo1’s Day edition of a Swiss newspaper supposedly depicting an extraterrestrial being held captive by uniformed officers. The second showed the same picture as it cropped up in the files of the American F. B. I.; the third showed it illustrating an authoritative report presenting evidence of life on other planets. Loaded into one of the hotel’s original candy displays, Anüll’s Untitled (Extraterrestrial) (1992) evoke a sci-fi fantasy, which begins on a remote mountaintop and ends in deliverance in outerspace.

Chocolate candy bars crop up on another fictional alpine trek, this time offering ready-made assistance to the cartoon personages assembled by Karen Kilimnik in her scatter-style installation Switzerland, the Pink Panther & Peter Sellers & Boris & Natasha in Siberia (1991). Like Dada artist Kurt Schwitters, who frequently included candy bar wrappers in his collages of everyday ephemera, Kilimnik works a vein of Pop montage. However, compared to Schwitters’s train-station sweepings, Kilimnik’s collages are less democratic, and far more narrative in their contents. Her tableaux are reminiscent of Joseph Cornell boxes come unglued, and they evince obsessions similar to   Cornell’s, who also had a penchant for ballerinas and international travel. Kilimnik’s work also reflects her passion for sweets, particularly chocolate. A recent sculpture by Kilimnik, Poisoned Chocolates (1989), featured poison-laced chocolate balanced on a scale with an ounce of cocaine-like material, equating the seriousness of her addiction with one that is actually illegal. S.J. Curtis’ Courtship (Mutual Feeding) (1994) echoes this image of addiction with pieces of strychnine-saturated chocolate nestled between a pair of hypodermic syringes in a velvet-lined case.

As delicate as cobwebs, Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes’ wall drawings are collages of ephemera. Silk and linen threads, lilliputian pages torn from miniature dictionaries, grasses, and chocolate are materials which might be seen to signify (respectively) the costume, language, land, and natural economy of some unknown place. Through her minimal artworks, Gomes reaches back into culture of which barely a trace remains either—a non-invasive form of intervention, the antithesis of colonization or exploitation. In the site-specific drawing she created for this exhibition, chocolate is a barely whispered presence. Minute blobs of white chocolate weld pale threads together; part of a Droste pastille is affixed to the wall—with the “te” spelling out the Portuguese word for “you”—and has been painted over in a coat of opaque white paint. This final gesture is the artist’s homage to Beuys’ obscuring the brown chocolate with brown paint in his Two Women multiple.

Chocolate is part of the texture of everyday life. Or so seems to be the case with Gomes’ subdued wall-drawing, and so too, with Anya Gallaccio’s, Stroked, an entire wall painted in rich brown chocolate. Stroked is the antecedent to Couverture (1994), another site-specific installation: a chocolate-coated cell located deep in the basement of the Filiale Gallery in Basel. These lushly painted but pictorially stark environments seem to participate in the current critique of minimalism being promulgated by such artists as Antoni and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Gonzalez-Torres is known for his candy sculptures, including a forty-pound spill of Baci candies. “Baci” is Italian for “kisses.”  The silvery wrappers invest the steely serenity of minimalism with an uncharacteristically sweet appetite, affectionate disposition, and (given that the candies are there to be taken) accessible distribution. However, Gallaccio, who like Ruscha has also worked with flowers, maintains that her interest lies less in a critique than a direct involvement with materials, a process that she characterizes as collaboration.37 And so her chocolate wall may be regarded as a voluptuous, sensual skin, ready to envelop the viewer in the rich perfume of chocolate and a mesmerizing haze of soft and buttery brushstrokes.



And what a palace it was! It had one hundred rooms, and everything was made of either dark or light chocolate! The bricks were chocolate, and the cement holding them together was chocolate, and the windows were chocolate, and the walls and ceilings were made of chocolate, so were the carpets and the pictures and the furniture and the beds; and when you turned on the taps in the bathroom, hot chocolate came pouring out.

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964.38

In the chocolate world—fragrant, nourishing, warm, and just repulsive enough to keep one feeling alive and on edge—what’s playing for music? There’s Charlotte Moorman’s cello “chocolate Easter music.” But if that’s too seasonal, spin a chocolate platter, pressed by Peter Lardong. Lardong is a former fork-lift operator who has sunk his life-savings into crack-pot inventions, such as an automatic talking catfood feeder and recordings done in beer and ice. Chocolate titles include In the Ghetto by Elvis Presley, Ich will keine Schokolade, ich will lieber einen Mann (“I don’t want Chocolate, I want a Man”), and the Babysitter Boogie. All are available from his own factory where they come with instructions to play them slightly chilled for best results. With Franco Götte’s chocolate dentures near at hand, eat chocolate until your teeth drop out of your head, supping at the table laden to capacity by Ultra Violet. The one-time member of Andy Warhol’s entourage and constant chocolate fan has arranged chocolate-coated goblets, utensils, plates, and—in a touch of surreality fit for Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast—chocolate roses and cigars. Feast your eyes on the chocolate Hall of Fame, whose ranks are represented by Franz Ziegler’s chocolate bust of Nefertiti, Susan and Ewald Notter’s Marilyn Monroe, and a bust of Swiss minimalist Olivier Mosset by confectionery artist Thomas Vaccaro.

Or just gaze up into the glass eyes of Eric Magnuson’s giant Chocolate Moose (1995). For by this point, chocolate has thoroughly coated the tongue and even overtaken language, so that a trifling cup of mousse is transformed through some absurd slip into an almost incomprehensibly large chocolate trophy. So smitten, now, sink back into Peter Boynton’s Large Chocolate Syrup (1993) modeled after the classic modernist chaise lounge by Charles Eames, with the hard plastic seat upholstered in a thick coat of chocolate. It serves as a gentle reminder that chocolate is the antithesis to the modernists’ plan for streamlined reduction and lands one in the realm of unsublimated impulses and desires which cannot be suppressed by puritanical design.



In its physical resemblance to mud, the act of touching, molding, packing, and piling chocolate into shape harkens back to creation myths of imposing order on ooze. But the chocolate Kunstwollen veers from the basic to the base when its allusions turn from ooze to excrement. (This relationship is right there in the cooking—a recent surf through the Internet turned up recipes for chocolate desserts called Dirt and Doodoo Balls.) Like Karen Finley, the American performance artist Paul McCarthy slathers foodstuffs, such as chocolate, ketchup, and mayonnaise that resemble human fluids and waste, on his body during performances of such personae as the Pig Man and the Captain of the Death Ship. Beyond making a Freudian spectacle of regressive coprophilic behavior, these are the sights, sounds, and smells of apocalypse. The music that wells up out of the basin of Helen Chadwick’s chocolate fountain (Cacao, I994) is the antithesis of the tinkling play of water that soothes and quiets jangled nerves. It’s the shuddering, plopping, sound of smothering doom one hears on the brink of the La Brea Tar Pits. This may cast chocolate at its darkest, but even here morbidity slips into humor. The slumped pile of Claes Oldenburg’s Earthquake (1969) is a chocolate model for an (unrealized) amusement park ride that would send anxious revelers through the rumbling bowels of a chocolate Matterhorn.

Cast, melted, or corroded into dust, chocolate seems capable of assuming endless sculptural forms, conceptual roles, and of conveying as many meanings within contemporary art. However, there is a commonality expressed throughout this history, and again, the key lies in the Chocolate Grinder, in whose depiction Duchamp experienced a certain freedom. He wrote, “Through the introduction of straight perspective and a very geometrical design of a definite grinding machine like this one, I felt definitely out of the cubist straightjacket.”39 This sense of liberation combined with a “definite grinding” eroticism makes Duchamp’s machine emblematic of the very properties artists who use chocolate as a material have since enjoyed.

By its organic nature, chocolate defies the notion of art as an eternal property. Images and objects rendered in chocolate perform in relation to the passage of time. Chocolate art does not stand still for the annals of history. Likewise, it resists falling into line with history’s traditionally formal concerns. For art conservators, who must determine to what extent these changes form part of a work’s intent, such action proves a delicate dilemma.40 Perhaps the piece is supposed to fall away, like a life, into a state of irreparable ruin or death. Chocolate’s kinship with the body is further particularized by its unique physicality and nature. Capable of at once being sweet and cloying, irresistible and disgusting, delectable and wasteful, chocolate embodies the contradictions of the flesh. And it is the body, with all of its slippery complexities and mutable desires, which in turn serves as the conceptual point of focus around which to build a naturally nuanced, ever-changing and accommodating chocolate art history.


  1. Man Ray, “Bilingual Biography,” View, ibid
  2. Marcel Duchamp, Notes and Projects for the Large Glass, Arturo Schwarz, ed. (New York: Abrams, Inc., I969), p. 210, no. 140.
  3. In 1953, Duchamp made a landscape drawing in ink, pencil, crayon, talcum powder and chocolate on blue blotting paper, entitled Moonlight on the Bay at Basswood. cf. ex. cat., Marcel Duchamp, Anne d’Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine, eds. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973), cat. no. 170: “The shore line of a Minnesota lake was drawn by Duchamp from his vantage point on a houseboat during a summer visit to friends. The landscape has affinities with the photo-collage background of Etant Donnés, a project on which he was then engaged.”
  4. Kyosin Bajin, essay contribution to Fluxshoe, Ken Friedman, David Mayor, and Mike Weaver, eds. (Devon: Beau Geste Press, 1972), p. 3.
  5. ibid. The chocolate bar sealed inside the plastic envelope in Joseph Beuys’ Künstlerpost (1969) was monogrammed “Fluxus Zone West.” The multiple was part of an edition of mail-art objects by artists including Dieter Roth, Daniel Spoerri, and Georges Brecht.
  6. ex. cat., Daniel Spoerri: Wenn alle Künste untergehn, die edle Kochkunst bleibt bestehn, (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1971), p. 1.
  7. A facsimile of the letter, written to Karl Gerstner and dated 5 December 1957, appears in ibid., p. 16.
  8. ibid., p. 15.
  9. Zwei Fräulein mit leuchtendem Brot was created as a multiple for a looseleaf portfolio entitled de-collage 5, which included documentation on happenings, musical scores and objects by such artists as Dick Higgins, Alan Kaprow, and Bernard Vautier. It was edited by Wolf Vostell and published in 1966 by Typos Verlag, Frankfurt, in an edition of 500 copies.
  10. ex. cat. essay, Ira Wool, “Homage to Dieter: A Rot(h)iana of annotated anecdotes,” Dieter Roth (New York: David Nolan Gallery, 1989), p. 13.
  11. “Autobiography of Dieter Roth” from a press release for the Centre de Documentació d’Art Actual, Barcelona, 1981. (Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artist’s File)
  12. The artist in conversation with Walter Hopps, Edward Ruscha: Romance with Liquids, Paintings 1966-69 (New York: Rizzoli, 1993), p. 102-103.
  13. William Hickling Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York: The Modern Library Edition nd.[originally 1843]), p. 323.
  14. M.F.K. Fisher, “The Pale Yellow Glove,” Serve It Forth, collected in The Art of Eating (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1976), p. 88, originally published 1937.
  15. The cost of $33 accords with the age of Christ at the time of his crucifixion.
  16. cf. introductory essay by Maria-Lluïsa Borràs in Mona a Barcelona Antoni Miralda and Llorenç Torrado, eds., (Barcelona: Edicions Polígrafa, S.A., 1980).
  17. A procession of viewers pushed through the gallery for the entire day. The sculptors appeared in chocolate top hats, made for them by Antoni Escriba, whom Franz Ziegler, one of the confectionery artists in this exhibition, referred to as the “godfather” of contemporary chocolate artisans.
  18. Alma H. Austin, The Romance of Candy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938), p. 25.
  19. Michael T. Kaufman, “Easter has Sermons, The Sun and Strollers,” The New York Times, 23 April 1973. I would like to thank Barbara Moore for sharing this reference. In an essay on Moorman’s collaborations, Moore notes that during the chocolate candy performance, “Moorman was terrified, recalling that one of Michelangelo’s models had suffocated from being totally gilded in gold. But the possible consequences didn’t deter her. ‘I kept thinking of it while I was sitting there,’ she said offhandedly. ‘That, you know, I might die.”’ cf. Barbara Moore, “Charlotte Moorman, Eroticello Variations,” EAR: New Music News, May 1987, p. 18.
  20. Karen Finley, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” Shock Treatment, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1990), p. 56.
  21. Brian Wallis, “Karen Finley Hit by Columnists,” Art in America, July 1990, p. 179.
  22. There are further relationships between Moorman’s and Finley’s works. On a formal level, Moorman was covered with shredded coconut as Finley was, at one point in her performance, covered with alfalfa sprouts. In 1967, Moorman (“the topless cellist”) was arrested on obscenity charges while performing a piece created for her by Nam June Paik entitled Opera Sextronique. And though Finley (the “chocolate-smeared woman”) was never arrested, her 1993 deposition was offered as testimony during the NEA trial.
  23. The Marquis’ mother-in-law brought charges against him after the scandal that ensued with his experimentation with chocolates and the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly. “All who ate them were seized with shameless ardor and lust and started the wildest excesses in love.” During his imprisonment, the Marquis’ wife brought him supplies of linen, jams, books, candles and chocolate. cf. Barbara Lekatsas, unpublished paper presented at Hofstra University symposium “Chocolate: Food of the Gods” in 1988.
  24. Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola, 1976, quoted in ibid, p. 11.
  25. Artist interviewed by Laura Cottingham, “Janine Antoni,” Flash Art, Summer 1993, p. 105.
  26. cf. Suzanne Hamlin, “It’s Hard to Ignore Cravings: Researchers Can’t Resist,” The New York Times, 22 February 1995, pp. C1, C6.
  27. In fact, the actual amount of phenylethylamine (PEA) in a chocolate candy bar (1 mg) is considerably less than the amount that exists in a serving of smoked salami (6.7 mg), or piece of cheddar cheese (5.8 mg), cf. Cat Cox, Chocolate Unwrapped: The Politics of Pleasure (London: The Women’s Environmental Network, 1993), p. 24.
  28. Debra Waterhouse, Why Women Need Chocolate: Eat What You Crave to Look Good & Feel Great (New York: Hyperion, 1995).
  29. Quoted in Joanna Frueh, Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989) p. 73.
  30. George Orwell, 1984 (New York: A Signet Classic, 1983), p. 101, originally published 1949. The childhood memory Winston later recollects is of the death of his younger sister, which he precipitated by stealing her ration of chocolate.
  31. According to the Biennale’s American curator, Henry Hopkins, “Ruscha wavered and nearly sent a false note from his mother saying he couldn’t come, but he did come out of sympathy for my difficult situation.” cf. ex. cat. intro. by Henry Hopkins, Works of Edward Ruscha (San Francisco: Museum of Modern Art, 1982), p. 11.
  32. As Hopkins points out, “Ants became part of Ruscha’s imagery and appeared in profusion on the catalog and poster that Ruscha designed for another international exhibition, Documenta 5, in Kassel, Germany, in 1972.” (ibid.)
  33. Der Pralinenmeister was first exhibited at Galerie Paul Maenz, Cologne, May 29 through June 27, 1981. For the individual texts cf., ex. cat., Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986), pp. 210-233.
  34. The cockroaches were removed after consultation with New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
  35. Two untitled boxes each held six artist-designed candies; the edition was released on Valentine’s Day 1995.
  36. ex. cat., Barbara Bloom, The Reign of Narcissism: Guide Book (Stuttgart: Wüttembergischer Kunstverein, et. al., 1990).
  37. cf. Artist quoted in Angela Choom, “Rebels of the Realm,” Art & Antiques, April 1994, p. 61.
  38. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (New York: Bantam Books, 1984) p. 13, originally published 1964.
  39. op. cit., Marcel Duchamp 1973, p. 272.
  40. For an account of the issues and ethics involved in restoring chocolate as a fine arts medium, along with some conservation case studies, cf. Glenn Wharton, Sharon D. Blank & J. Claire Dean, “Sweetness and Blight: Conservation of Chocolate Works of Art.” (Preprint of paper for an upcoming conference at the Tate Gallery, London, entitled “From Marble to Chocolate: The Conservation of Modern Sculpture,” September 1995.)