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Free food in the gallery: Understanding Tiravanija

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Artists interrupting or intervening in art museum displays with food as a medium or theme is a distinct strand of contemporary art practice. In this article, we travel through fragments of the history of food-art with a few examples of different genres and forms, demonstrating that art history can be explained in other ways than through the already recognized art genres. Based on my experience in-person with Untitled (Lunch Box), an interpretation of Tiravanija’s ephemeral work is provided using the model of communicative action theorized by Habermas, which was first applied to contemporary art by art scholar Grant Kester (2004). Tiravanija’s practice uses food to create situations for communicative actions to happen and is an approach to institutional critique. The last section provides a critical account against Bishop’s criticism of Tiravanija, arguing that Bishop’s understanding of art is based on instrumental rationality. On the other hand, Tiravanija’s approach is based on value rationality and is a more timely approach in the contemporary context of late-stage capitalism.
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Keywords: Claire Bishop; Rirkrit Tiravanija; food art; institutional critique; late-stage capitalism; relational aesthetics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121807477Australian National University

Publication date: September 1, 2020

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  • JAWS: Journal of Arts Writing by Students is a compilation of the best arts research and writing by current MA students and first year graduates. Capturing the contemporary themes and trends in arts research today, JAWS is peer reviewed and edited by students, for students; promoting the autodidactic attitude and inherent curiosity that is required for post graduate, career or personal research development with or without practice.
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