In The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) Michael Pollan characterizes United States residents as “a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of living healthily” (3). The Sweet Sensation exhibition showing January 22 – March 29, 2015 at the University of Connecticut’s William Benton Museum of Art challenges patrons to recognize how this experience can be a product of their personal daily dietary choices. Upon entering the central gallery, contemporary regional artwork tempts guests to confront and interrogate their desires for the sweet, salty, fatty, processed, and often corn-derived treats that inspired the pieces.
“‘Lollipops’ by Margaret Morrison really pulled me in. It’s full of these hypnotizing swirls and enticing colors, and was accompanied by an excerpt about how everything we eat is made of corn. I think this piece speaks to both the fact that processing food really makes us have no idea what we’re eating and also that the packaging, the colorful “hypnotism” … makes us not really care that we don’t know.” FYE Student reproduced with permission
Other class favorites from this exhibit included Margaret Morrison’s “Chocolate Cheesecake,” that one student admired for “the attention to detail and technique,” which they thought were “extraordinary” (FYE Student reproduced with permission). Giant, partially eaten, boxes of chocolates and doughnuts, chicken with waffles (that some students are now excited to try), and rows of cereal boxes covered in glittering, sugary glass powder also drew a lot of interest, speculation, and debate.
As a teacher, the most exciting part of this museum tour for me was that first-year students from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds looked truly engaged by this opportunity to explore the artwork, ask questions, and talk about their interpretations with their peers. At one point our endlessly patient, knowledgeable guide, the museum’s Registrar and Assistant Curator, had to pause her description of a work until she could be heard over multiple excited exclamations of “ooh, look at this over here!”
Although the current exhibits, Sweet Sensation and In The Paint: Basketball In Contemporary Art, stirred the most undeniable enthusiasm, paintings from the Benton’s historical collections were frequently the topics of meaningful reflection and questions. For some students these works were the most inspiring part of the day.
“I really liked ‘Venus Admonishing Cupid” by Benjamin West. It caught my attention immediately because it was beautifully painted. The tears and her body looked extremely real. The mythological story behind it, Jupiter carrying Venus off as a beautiful white bull is quite fascinating” – FYE Student reproduced with permission
On a less academic note, others were incredibly excited for the free toothbrushes in the lobby. The front desk liaison explained that these were provided by Health and Dental Services to remind patrons that sugary sweets can also harm your teeth. But even if there hadn’t been a logical connection I think they would have been just as popular. College students do tend to love free stuff, after all. So leaving with a freebee was their icing on top of a wonderful day.
Thank you to the fabulous Benton Museum professional and student staff who were so kind to provide this personalized experience for our class. It was a great way to kick off our reading of the text and to connect with each other as intellectuals. I know that many of us will return to enjoy future exhibits and to read in your gorgeous, newly opened weekend study lounge. We appreciate your insights, kindness, and yes, the toothbrushes.