Hunting and Gathering for Five Tables of Art About Food

Tomioka Tessai: Vegetables and Grasshopper (detail), 1877; hanging scroll: ink and color on paper; 48 3/8 x 13 3/8 in.; private collection.

The first Thursday of each month is Free First Thursday, when BAMPFA opens its galleries and study centers to all, free of charge. It’s also the day that Lynne Kimura, BAMPFA’s Carmel and Howard Friesen Collections Engagement Associate and Academic Liaison, presents Five Tables, a monthly series that invites visitors into the museum’s study centers for a fun, inspiring, and occasionally oddball glimpse of art from our works on paper, Asian, and Conceptual art collections. Below, Kimura describes the behind-the-scenes process that goes into putting these monthly viewings together.

Five Tables of . . . Food, Glorious Food takes place Thursday, July 5, from 4–7 in BAMPFA's Helzel Works on Paper Study Center on the lower level. Admission is free.

Five Tables always takes a theme, the better to highlight the variety of the art collections housed in the centers . . . and, truthfully, for my benefit as well. Researching and selecting works on different subjects makes for an intriguing monthly challenge—trying to figure out what to pull from the shelves, how artworks from different cultures and media might complement and contrast with each other to good effect, and how to put as many wonderful things as possible on display on the five seminar tables in the Helzel Works on Paper Study Center. For July, I chose the theme Five Tables of . . . Food, Glorious Food (food is always a good Berkeley subject!). Working from our online collection database and my own memory (because it’s not always obvious from the title or description of a work that it depicts food), I put together a list of potential works and started looking at art. (Does it go without saying that this is the best part of my job?)

I started in the Cahill Asian Art Study Center, and high on my list was a hanging scroll by the Japanese literati artist Tomioka Tessai, Vegetables and Grasshopper, which is on long-term loan to our collection. I hadn’t seen it in years, but remembered that it was charming and also likely a rumination on the possible Buddha nature of plants and animals. The scroll also has a nice box, seen second from the left on the top shelf.

It’s always a pleasure to slowly unearth a scroll from its series of boxes and wrappings.

A definite keeper! The image has a fantastic contrast in textures: the crispness of the grasshopper’s antenna and legs, the mottled appearance of the radish leaves (created by dropping ink or water on still-wet ink), the angular strokes creating the weave of the basket.

Come visit me on BAMPFA’s lower level this Thursday, July 5, from 4 to 7 p.m. and see what else I found!