30 years since its founding as an alternative to Artscape, Foodscape munches on
Foodscape, since 1984, is an art show, with 51 participants to date, always opening the week before Artscape, originally conceived as a contrarian reaction to the banality of Artscape, the dearth of art in Artscape, and the abundance of funnel cakes for the delectation of the booboisie at Artscape. Some things have changed, and we discussed this on a recent infernally sweaty July morning over cool, hydrating beverages at the Mount Royal Tavern, with original Foodscape shot-callers Jim Burger (who is also a CP contributor and pal of the paper), J. Kelly Lane, and Ronald Russell. You probably missed the opening, but Foodscape is up now at the Tavern and will run through the end of Artscape, not that you need another reason besides cheap drinks and air conditioning to stop into the Tavern during Artscape. (Joe MacScape)
CP: How many Artscapes was it before people started to make fun of Artscape?
Jim Burger: It was one. How that happened, they decided they were gonna have this Artscape thing—
J. Kelly Lane: Jody Albright was the queen.
JB: It was a “festival of the arts.” Baltimore had festivals and stuff all the time.
CP: Right, they had the City Fair—
JB: Yeah, it looked exactly like any other thing. They called it Artscape, but it was really fried dough and stuff like that, and the art was all stuck over in one corner.
JKL: And none of it was from here.
CP: Was it art vendors?
JKL: No, it was in the Fox Building gallery and the Station building gallery, [artists from] Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia.
CP: Nobody from Baltimore was invited.
Ron Russell: Very few. It wasn’t about Baltimore artists at all.
JB: It was barely about art, it was certainly not about Baltimore.
JKL: Not even Baltimore. Maryland—there were very few plain old Maryland artists.
RR: All the lines were at the food concessions. There were no lines to get in to see the art.
JB: So we—
RR: So we made fun of it.
JB: Just made fun of it immediately, yeah.
CP: Do you remember the first Foodscape, do you remember the stuff that got hung?
JB: The first piece that I did was (looks to Ron) you and Laura, it was called “Tea Time in Highlandtown,” and it was Ron and Laura—
RR: My wife.
JB: —in their bathing suits, out on our deck in East Baltimore, with cups and saucers. That was my first Foodscape piece.
JKL: My first one was “Seafood on a Roll.”
CP: A painting?
JKL: Yeah, and it was this nude, on a roll, floating in a river.
RR: (Laughs) I’m not sure what my first one was, I don’t remember. It wasn’t important at the time to document it. Who knew 30 years we were gonna be— (laughs)
JKL: My archives are a mess.
CP: It didn’t occur to you that you were gonna do this even one more time.
RR: The previous owner [of the Tavern, Elliott Robinson] said, “we wanna do this again next year.” He gave us carte blanche, every year, that was our period of time, so we just kept doing it.
CP: Did you guys sell anything?
JKL: Oh yeah.
CP: And you had a good crowd.
JB: Always. Always have a good crowd. The opening is always mobbed.
RR: And it’s free food too, because all the artists have to bring food, and the owner makes these great meatballs, it’s a feast.
JB: It’s a feast. And then during Artscape, and remember, Artscape used to just be along here [Mount Royal Avenue], this was the only air-conditioned place where you could go in and get a drink. We had many eyes looking at the art over the course of Artscape. I would wager to guess it might be the only art that some people see. They come to the Mount Royal Tavern and are dimly aware . . .
CP: Lately, I dunno, in the past four or five years, there’s been Whartscape, and Ratscape, and Scapescape, did anybody give you your propers for tacking ‘scape” onto something?
JKL: Well, we tacked—you know—“Artscape.”
JB: I think it pretty much entered into the lexicon pretty early on, you would hear people refer to Artscape as Foodscape, and then Foodscape would get mentioned along with it.
RR: The Artscape organizers would talk about it from the side of their mouth.
JKL: That came from [former City Paper and Baltimore Sun writer] Andrei Codrescu, I think it was the first Foodscape show. He really promoted [the] Foodscape thing for us. He was the first one to put it in the lexicon. The first year of Artscape we didn’t have the Tavern. The second year of Artscape, I had a show here by myself, and then I was thinking, “you know, it’d be a lot more fun to show this with somebody,” so I asked Ron if he would do it with me the next year, and then the two of us said, “this would be even more fun if we just have a party.”
RR: We had a pretty good social circle then, camping and playing volleyball—
JKL: A big artists circle, too.
CP: Thirty years ago.
JKL: We were younger.
RR: —Hacky Sack.
JB: We were outlaws at the beginning—
JKL: A Salon des Refusés.
JB: —and then over the years, many of us were in Artscape, in the shows, but that didn’t stop us from still being in Foodscape (laughs). We keep turning up, every year.
JKL: I don’t think it’s a protest anymore. Artscape has certainly come up to the fore.
JB: It’s way better.
RR: It’s turned into—because there’s a lot of crafts, the booths—so there’s a lot of T-shirts, and boring crap. It’s more commercial.
CP: Yeah, they’re giving away Oscar Mayer stuff, and cheese.
JKL: But that’s their sponsors, they need that. I totally understand that. But it’s gotten so big you can’t see it all.
CP: But you absolutely can see all the gallery art.
JKL: But it’s all over the city.
RR: It’s expanded. There’s still this [Mount Royal area] which is where most of the art is, but not all of it by any stretch anymore, it’s up on North Avenue, it’s all over the place.
JB: And at Stevenson University, they use the galleries.
JKL: Creative Alliance, School 33—
JB: You sorta wonder what isn’t Artscape.
JKL: The whole city now.
CP: So who is in [Foodscape] this year?
JB: This group right here [photo]. Usually every year we have a guest.
CP: You invite a guest, you select a guest?
JB: Yeah—or two—and this year we didn’t, because it’s the 30th, and everybody is a tried-and-true known commodity.
JKL: In other words they show up with their piece, on time, bring food to the opening.
JB: We have had some people over the years, they’ve let us down, kinda phoned it in. Not so much lately.
CP: The damage is minimal though, since it’s one piece and one person.
JB: Some people have just kinda whined to be in it, and then they forget they’re in it.
JKL: Artists drive me crazy.
JB: The rules now are it has to be a piece based on food, done for Foodscape, this year. You can’t just—
CP: Pull something off your wall?
JB: Right. “Here’s a painting I did of an apple.” And that’s happened, so over the years we’ve kinda honed the rules.
CP: Do you guys have any kind of offseason meeting?
JKL: Opening Day.
JB: Opening day of baseball season, at [UNDISCLOSED LOCATION REDACTED], Ron, and Kelly and I always watch the game there, and that’s when we hash everything out.
JKL: Don’t publicize that.
CP: I’ll say at an Undisclosed Location. Which anybody who knows you will be able to figure out.
JB: That’s where it all comes from, and we’ve been doing this for awhile, but it’s not automatic. It’s still takes some planning.
JKL: A village.
CP: Who’s the village idiot?
JB, JKL, RR: (laughs)
RR: We take turns.