Eco-Art Exhibit Tied to BP Funding

There’s a lot of contemporary art out there that’s hard to understand.  Fortunately for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), that hasn’t been the case with one of its current projects, which opened last February.  The year-long exhibition, EATLACMA, a collaboration with local artist collective Fallen Fruit, has been drawing patrons in to explore the relationship between food, art and culture.

“Fusing the richness of LACMA’s permanent collection with the ephemerality of food and the natural growth cycle, EATLACMA’s projects consider food as a common ground that explores the social role of art and ritual in community and human relationships,” writes the museum. “EATLACMA unfolds seasonally, with artist’s gardens planted and harvested on the museum campus, hands-on public events, and a concurrent exhibition, Fallen Fruit Presents The Fruit of LACMA,” which opened on June 27. 

Show highlights

Visitors differed on their favorites, but here are some of the festival’s most noted highlights:


  • Food Pyramid, a compact model of a low-impact food garden, designed to look like the ever-familiar food diet pyramid, and resting in a pond of tilapia fish.  It runs off of a solar-powered pump, recycles water from the top, and feeds its produce with waste left in the water by the tilapia fish.
  • Plant the Perimeter Fruit Tree Giveaway, where Fallen Fruit artists offered free public fruit tree adoptions to mark the beginning of the season’s growth cycle.
  • Promiscuous Production: Breeding is Bittersweet, a “tunnel-shaped, bamboo structure doubles as an experimental breeding ground for the hybrid, never-before-seen, BitterSweet melon.”
  • Roots of Compromise, a radish garden planted in a heavily accessible traffic island.
  • Show Us How You Eat, their “participatory online video project” where YouTube members can send in videos of themselves eating for up to 60 seconds in length.
  • Strawberry Flag, which drip-fed a system of sick strawberry plants through IV tubes.
  • The outdoor event Tomato Hootenany, which took place in May, invited visitors to “come pick up a tomato seedling plant, square dance with caller Susan Michaels and the old time string band Triple Chicken Foot, and take part in a Mortgage Lifter Tomato Workshop with artists Anne Hars and Stephanie Allespach.”
  • The Way Potatoes Go, a potato garden where “the varieties exist as a result of coincidences, accidents, planning, violence, and careful custody over thousands of years. Through tracing their different backgrounds, a history of human desire appears.”
  • And then there is the Public Fruit Theater, which only presents one performer: a tree. “Visitors are invited to come watch the growth process of this concrete-locked tree as if they were witnessing the slow arc of a character’s development on stage. In this way, the episodic relationship between the tree, the viewer, and also the other audience members creates a story, much like the ones we look for in theatre.”


The exhibition closes on November 7 with a full-day event at the museum called Let Them Eat LACMA, which promises to deliver “a tomato fight, a song and story cycle on the mystery of the knife, fork and spoon, an electronic melon drumming circle, Salome seducing her lover through the language of food, and a large Mandala of dinner plates ritually assembled and then dismantled by the public who take home each plate. a selection of food served to prisoners in California jails, chewing carolers, a watermelon eating contest, and belly listening sessions in which we hear digestion at its pinnacle. Jonathan Gold will read a text on Spam to accompany Ed Ruscha’s Actual Size, his painting of a can of Spam. Three Los Angeles muses (Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, and Phranc) will sing for their suppers.”

Many visitors

Overall, the exhibition’s playful approach has attracted thousands of visitors to engage and learn more about the bigger issues behind the humorous events, such as food scarcity, urban planning, agribusiness, and waste.  “Though decidedly political in their artist statement, their work doesn’t wrestle with political philosophy nor engage in confrontational radicalism but plays with social ambiguity and pleasure as a means to activate and address obliquely environmental themes,” writes Robby Herbst in the arts journal 127 Prince.

BP Involvement

Yet no piece of provocative art is without controversy, and the one unfortunate aspect to the show, which hasn’t been widely addressed, is the obvious underwritten support BP has given LACMA for their “BP Grand Entrance,” which visitors must pass through to enter the museum, and one of the spots where EATLACMA events take place.  It’s an oxymoron, if anything, to attend an event about environmental awareness within a building structure that is visibly named after one of the world’s most notorious polluters.  To some, it may look as if BP has some shred of corporate responsibility, but to others, it demonstrates a lack of awareness, or, as LA artist Mark Vallen has put it, an “ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand-affair.”

The dichotomy of an environmental art exhibit that’s also being staged as an indirect endorsement for BP demonstrates, if anything, the state of public arts funding today, which is largely dependent on corporate donations from whomever is willing to give it.  Funding for the arts has always been abysmally low in this country, and sometimes groups and institutions have to bite the bullet (and their values), and take it from wherever they can get it — even BP.  In an interview with Robby Herbst this past summer, Fallen Fruit stated that, “LACMA is an accepted milestone of mainstream success and a lot of the artists we’re engaging are doing radical work that would not be curated in any museum at this time. We also are not asking them to accept terms that are different from our own… Mostly, artists want a platform for their work and have become ‘complicit’ in this same system; they could say no.  For us, the compromise is worth it.” 

Arts Funding Catch-22

Arts funding exists in a Catch-22.  Either you get the funding, and the attached endorsement that you may not agree with, or you deny the funding, and the art doesn’t get made. In an interview with 127 Prince’s Chelsea Haines, Nato Thompson, Chief Curator at Creative Time in New York City, said, “sustainability is a difficult idea in general as are projects relationships to capital. What you don’t want to open up is a witch-hunt hounding those whose relationships with the economy are not completely without difficulties. Living under neoliberalism capitalism, all our funding structures are with difficulties.” 

Fallen Fruit goes on to say, “Corporate money underwrites not just a majority of arts funding but also higher education funding in this country, and even the funding from wealthy individual donors originates from corporate wealth. American politics is directed by corporate interests. It is important for artists to critique this relationship and the way it manifests everywhere in our lives, but the issues are so much larger than BP and LACMA. It involves nothing less than the collapse of democracy through global corporate capitalism.”  The group sees its work as a type of institutional rewriting because it uses corporate funding to democratize the art process for both art-creators and art-receivers. 

Art is business

Art is business, just like everything else in America, and in order to survive, it needs to be funded.  Before we criticize museums and other institutions for taking “tainted money,” let’s re-evaluate how we, as common citizens, value those who do creatively address today’s issues, as well as how we support them.  The answer to the issue of corporate sponsorship lies within the general American public, in whether we believe art to be a luxury or a necessity.  Art prospers as far as its audience is willing to demand it, and unfortunately, in this society, people take art far too often for granted, and so artists really have no choice but to turn to corporate funding.  Despite the democratization of art accessibility, it still has yet to be followed by our culture in terms of democratizing our financial support of it.

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to Roots of Compromise more than I am to any of the other installations in this exhibit, because this piece, more than the others, is very emblematic of the relationship between LACMA’s environmentally aware event and BP’s environmentally polluted funding. 

Because the impact of art is rooted in its reception, like the radishes, a compromise has to exist between between art-makers, art-presenters, art-receivers, and the bureaucracies that put out the money.  Roots of Compromise addresses the “the necessary processes of cultivation and compromise,” and in this sense, I don’t believe LACMA buried its head in the sand when it decided to curate this exhibit after building the BP Grand Entrance,  To carry on this event doesn’t show lack of awareness, but rather an acuteness of it by acknowledging the tug-of-war that museums have to navigate in sustaining the constant creation of new and provocative art.  

Basically, if we want an event like EATLACMA to carry as much social responsibility in its funding as it does in it programming, we must be ready to pay up.  Otherwise, we must step aside and let the artists find their resources within the traditional capitalistic culture.  But if we’re not part of the funding solution, then we really don’t carry much weight in complaining about the problem.


Photo courtesy of Davburns1970 via Wikimedia Commons


Ashlyine B.
Ashlyine B.5 years ago

Your articles don’t beat about the bushes these are actually exact t to the purpose.

Delana Darrow
Delana Darrow8 years ago

hope this does some good,maybe it will make people stand up an take notice or in act real policies for our environment...

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

thanx for article.

Walter G.
Walter G8 years ago

Wasting food is just what I would expect from the collection of morons at BP.

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine8 years ago

Artistic individuals serve a purpose. Let us see what comes of this venture. Hopefully, good prevails. besides, nothing compares to that of the BP spill or any other contaminating spill for that matter.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago

Let's exhibit BP. As Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Maia L.
Past Member 8 years ago

i guess the question is does showing corporate responsibilty actually offset the harm done by this company?

Mary B.
Mary B8 years ago

stop tracking

Gloria Hafner
Gloria H8 years ago

Prior to photography taking over, art studios and commercial artists that worked in them all sold their souls to support their families. My father did paintings that glorified Republic Steel, Ohio Bell, Westinghouse, the WWII war effort, you name it. His skill level was a hundred times better than a lot of stuff that passes for art, and he did it all without a computer. The better you could draw, the better you could draw a paycheck!

Rachel Ovens
Rachel Ovens8 years ago

Art is not about selling paintings. It is about prophecy and speaking truth to power and provoking thought. Key principal should be 'No one is the big baddie' if we as a society are to problem solve. We need learn and not always lynch from the mistakes of those making the mistakes. Talk face on face to your corporates they are all around you. -- Artist Rachel Ovens author of exhibition "Messages for the Corporate World - no one is the big baddie?" NEW ZEALAND Dunedin