Happy National Chocolate Day! Now, Get Naked & Make Art

Tomorrow is National Chocolate Day. To celebrate, you could, as the National Confectioners Association would likely encourage, go out and buy enough Wonka Bars to stuff yourself and everyone you know through Halloween. You don't really need a holiday to remind you to do that, though. Instead, a dubious "Day" like this one gives us a chance to reflect on chocolate not only as a commodity, but a potent cultural symbol. A substance this rich in history and physical variability has more functions than a mere sweet tooth satisfier, it's also an important medium in contemporary art.
As Robin Cembalest wrote earlier this year for Artnews, "Like the ancient Americans... contemporary artists who employ chocolate as medium prize its mutability, mind-altering qualities, and inherent luxuriousness. Then, it was part of a religious ritual; now it might be used as a commentary on mass consumption." With a Wonka Bar in your hand, you could hardly disagree. From Karen Finley's naked chocolate performances to Ed Ruscha's minimal Chocolate Room, cocoa has proven itself a versatile medium both physically and conceptually.
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So, crack open box of bonbons and get naked. As long as you've got intention and an audience, you can call it art, too.
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Photo: Via The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
Vik Muniz
Vik Muniz' ostensible medium is photography, but he really works with a variety of everyday substances to create the images he eventually photographs. He's fashioned the Mona Lisa out of peanut butter & jelly and Caravaggio’s Narcissus from garbage. He's also worked extensively with chocolate syrup, recreating images of Mao, Medusa, Jackson Pollack, and even The Last Supper.
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Photo: Via JenniferRubell.com.
Jennifer Rubell
The daughter of mega-collectors Don and Mera Rubell, Jennifer Rubell worked as both a hotelier and an art assistant for Jeff Koons before coming into her own as a performance art caterer, of sorts. She hosts massive food events — affixing 1,521 doughnuts to a wall, say, or piling one ton of ribs under a dripping spigot of honey. One of her famous happenings involved recreations of Koons' Rabbit sculptures in chocolate. She invited guests to smash the bunnies with hammers and eat the shards, allowing others to effectively kill her own idols.
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Photo: Via eBay.com.
Paul McCarthy
In 2007, the fantastically perverted Paul McCarthy — who installed a depraved, Snow White-themed bacchanal at the Park Avenue Armory this past summer — set up a functioning chocolate factory in a New York City gallery. There, he manufactured and sold figurines of Santa Claus...holding butt plugs. (This kind of imagery is pretty much classic McCarthy.) You can still find them, for a very high price, on eBay.
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Photo: Via The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).
Ed Ruscha
For the 35th Venice Biennale in 1970, Ed Ruscha decided to move away from conventional paints and pigments and into more unlikely materials. His Chocolate Room is made up of 360 shingles, made from paper silk-screened with chocolate. At the time, some people scrawled anti-war slogans into the work, while ants attacked the rest. The panels are continuously replaced, however, each time the work is installed.
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Photo: Via Playboy.
Karen Finley
Karen Finley makes Lenny Bruce look like Shelly Duvall on Faerie Tale Theatre. One of the infamous NEA Four — four performance artists whose National Endowment for the Arts grants were revoked because of their subject matter — Finley made something of a name for herself by stripping down on stage, entering a trance-like state, shouting obscene invectives, and smearing herself with chocolate to address degradation and violence against women. (That did not stop her from posing for Playboy.) More recently, she did a beautiful photo series with honey and, this past summer, participated in a performance in which she painted sexts sent to her by strangers.
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Photo: Via Luhring Augstine.
Janine Antoni
Antoni's work often straddles the line between performance and sculpture. In 1992's Gnaw , she chewed on two 600-pound cubes, one made of lard and the other made of chocolate, over a month and a half as a sort of middle finger to the male-dominated movement of Minimalism. (She made the resulting chewed-up stuff into chocolate boxes and lipstick tubes, which were contained in a mock store display.) In Lick and Lather, she made casts of her bust in chocolate and soap and, well, licked and lathered each of them — disintegrating herself in the process.
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Photo: Via Hauser & Wirth.
Dieter Roth
The late Dieter Roth worked extensively with chocolate, brushing the medium onto steel plates so that the two substances corroded and broke down. He's made a number of busts of himself, too, although they were much more roughly hewn than Antoni's. One of his earliest was composed of birdseed and chocolate, and left outside to be pecked and torn apart by the elements. Another series of stacked heads was meant to eventually collapse — which it did.
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