For the next several months, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City will play host to a new art exhibition. Titled “The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet,” the exhibition is a collaboration of thirty artists and will fill the entire cathedral.
With an aim to make people think about where their food comes from, what happens to it, and where it goes when they’re done with it, the collection will be divided into seven themes: water, soil, seed, farm, market, meal, and waste. Individual works reference industrial farming, food deserts, the poverty of nearly all of the world’s food workers, and climate change.
Perhaps the most concrete statement made by the exhibition isn’t any of the art inside, but is outside, in the church’s garden. Two of the involved artists, David Burns and Austin Young, planted seven apple trees, the only food-bearing plants in the large garden. Their goal is to turn cities into “places of abundance” by making fruit trees, rather than ornamentals, the defining greenery of public spaces. The plantings also are a topical callback to their own artwork in the exhibit, a massive triptych on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
The forces behind the exhibition are artist-curator Robin Kahn and historian Kirby Gookin, who together organized the whole thing. Kahn is the author of Dining in Refugee Camps, a cookbook full of more awareness than recipes. Her work in the exhibition examines women’s roles in sustaining community through food.
During the months of the exhibition, the Cathedral will also host presentations and workshops by speakers including panels on urban farming and the cultural history of so-called American staple foods.
The Value of Food opened on October 6, 2015, and will close April 3, 2016. It is supported by public and private donors as well as the New York State Council on the Arts. Admission is free.