Fort Collins Weekly
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The Low-Carb Art Lifestyle
By Erica France

I am "in" with the low-carb crowd. I bought stevia packets for guests' tea and coffee, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for a consortium of dieters and I found a fantastic spreadsheet of nutritional values that lists the carbohydrate content for nearly every possible cooking ingredient. I can hit the gas station and know to pick up a Fresca rather than a Squirt and advise you that Propel water has fewer carbs than its parent beverage, Gatorade. I've cooked eggs every way you can imagine.
In college, I eagerly anticipated my first twentieth century art history class. I couldn't wait to hear how the professor would introduce modern works and make them legitimate. I leafed through the textbook before the first lecture and wondered what could be said about Yves Klein's canvases, each piece painted the same hue of blue. And what about Jackson Pollack or our contemporaries Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, Judy Pfaff—even Maya Lin?

Within the first few minutes of the class, I sensed I was about to be re-programmed. That eventually, I wouldn't be outside looking in on the art world; rather, I was about to become a member. That the community of artists, dealers, scholars and collectors could not survive if they were as shallow as I believed. That modern and contemporary works had a richness and intensity that far surpassed my perception and I needed to take a risk and buy into the twentieth century works before understanding them. That this was simply a transition into a new paradigm.

My familiarity with the Atkins diet and other reduced-carbohydrate programs is the result of many close friends and family members deciding to embrace the "lifestyle." To support their motives we had to get creative by dining differently, even experimenting with our drinks—is a rum and Coke better with lemon- , lime- or plain Diet Coke? Our new range of low-carb choices escalated to the point of using Propel water as a mixer.

I once made two cheesecakes—one with sugar, the other with Splenda. Splenda claims it is "made from sugar so it tastes like sugar." NO WAY! I first tried the cheesecake made from sugar substitute, and it was surprisingly decent. But my next bite of the refined sugar variety reminded me that Splenda, Equal and Nutrasweet are each imposters, tasting like a chewable childhood tablet, or cheap milk chocolate.

The key here is that each of these substitutes is also an important vehicle for weight loss, or a diabetic diet. If people had not already integrated them into their lives, they wouldn't still be on the market. A friend recently told me she was raised on Equal and thought it tasted better than sugar. This put the Splenda craze into perspective—because I've been eating refined sugar all these years, it's my standard for comparison, the empirical sweetener! Likewise, if we've been accustomed to art movements and styles excepting modern and contemporary art, we eschew and avoid it because it might not appear as substantial, genuine or valuable as more classical images. Similar to the sugar substitutes, if these kooky abstractions really weren't important products of our culture, they wouldn't have been on the market for over a century.

So what is this "low-carb art" that we've been lax to sample? It's the pieces that are not forthright, that make us think further than the simple act of identifying objects, locations and people in a painting, the works that don't always remain like Egypt's pyramids and Michelangelo's paintings. Pieces like Vanessa Beecroft's live performances of nude women standing with dyed hair and high heels. Or Damien Hirst's sliced animals, suspended in giant vats of formaldehyde. Sometimes ugly or simple images that remind us of beauty and substance.

Pick up a low-carb chai from Mugs Coffee Lounge on College Avenue and walk one block north to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where you'll find many examples of "low-carb art" in the Rocky Mountain Biennial. Two works stand out as having the lowest net carbs, minus fiber (which, by the way, translates to integrity and grit when you're not talking about food). Christina Craigo's nearly invisible Chosen, (Like Daisies), which won first place out of 171 total works in the exhibition, and Juhl Wojahn's Illusion of Singularity, appear to have dangerously low caloric content. But dedicate at least five minutes to each and you'll embark on your new diet, a different taste that over time, will bring a new kind of sweetness to your art experiences.

Rocky Mountain Biennial 2004
Museum of Contemporary Art
201 S. College Ave., Fort Collins
Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
Through June 11
Free, 482-2787