A Pod of Art Lobsters
From Dalí to Koons (there's a blockbuster title for you): some of the best lobsters art history has to offer
Welcome to the latest issue of Weekly Special, a food-art newsletter by Andrea Gyorody.
First, hello to all of you new subscribers!!! For anyone who missed it, Substack recently published my guest-curated edition of their “At Length” series, a round-up of newsletter posts on a shared subject. With packing and moving and OMG-how-do-we-own-so-much-stuff on the brain, I chose the theme “Possessions,” which gave me a chance to think about the relationships we have to physical objects and, more importantly, to bring together posts from a wide variety of writers I enjoy. If you clicked on Weekly Special at the bottom of that email, you have my endless gratitude for reading and subscribing!
To everyone else, hello again! Our family’s move to LA has been chaotic, to say the least, hence this newsletter coming to you approximately two weeks later than I had hoped.
But it’s a #sorrynotsorry situation, because 1. Fewer emails does the body good (don’t tell Substack I said that); and 2. I used that extra time to go deep on LOBSTERS: fascinating creatures who also happen to be very aesthetically pleasing, as art history amply demonstrates.
I’ve envied many a Maine lobster roll on Instagram this summer, but the direct inspiration for this issue of Weekly Special was a killer photo by Luis Marden that I recently saw pinned up in an undergrad painting studio:
These ‘50s Lobsterettes gripped me with their vinyl claws and wouldn’t let go. It’s a great photo, with intense color and contrast, and a sharp upward camera angle that renders these maiden lobsters larger than life. Wholesome, mildly bizarre Americana at its finest and least problematic. (Unless you’re vegan.)
I saw Marden’s photo just days after listening to a Gastropod episode all about lobsters, in which I learned, among other fun facts, that lobsters have teeth in their stomachs (!!) and bladders in their heads (?!?), and pee in each others’ faces as a form of communication. Just ponder that for a second.
Clearly these “cockroaches of the sea” (per Gastropod) were calling to me to be the subject of my next issue. I could’ve written a meditation entirely on the Lobsterettes, but once I started googling "art lobsters” I couldn’t stop, and I believe you deserve more than one.
You get a lobster! And you get a lobster! And YOU get a lobster!
Now let’s dig in.
A Pod of Art Lobsters
In my search for lobsters in works of art and design, I had to start with an iconic crustacean I know and love.
This “assisted readymade” would be irresistible for formal reasons alone—look how perfectly the lobster molds itself to the shape of the receiver!—but it also taps into the weird, weird world of Salvador Dalí. The master of Surrealism was apparently obsessed with lobsters and telephones, both for erotic reasons, according to this entertaining entry on the Tate’s website. For the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, he produced “a multi-media experience entitled The Dream of Venus, which consisted in part of dressing live nude models in ‘costumes’ made of fresh seafood, an event photographed by Horst P. Horst and George Platt Lynes. A lobster was used by the artist to cover the female sexual organs of his models.” Right.
It’s no surprise then that in 1937, just a year before he affixed a lobster to a phone, Dalí collaborated with revolutionary designer Elsa Schiaparelli on a fabulous lobster dress, where the tail is artfully positioned to cover the wearer’s tender bits.
The dress was designed expressly for none other than Wallis Simpson, who purchased it as part of her trousseau prior to marrying the Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry her because she was, gasp, a divorcée). Here she is, looking rather ethereal, wearing the lobster gown for Vogue:
I’m gravely disappointed that her character on The Crown did not appear in the lobster dress (missed opportunity, Netflix!), though to be fair, given that she was probably a Nazi sympathizer along with her husband, maybe it’s a good thing that she was only of moderate aesthetic interest on the show. (On the subject of film and television: where’s our Schiaparelli biopic? Her life was sensational and whoever optioned the biography published almost a decade ago is really sleeping on their obligation to bring her to the big screen.)
Ok, back to lobsters. While we’re in the realm of design, this petite porcelain dish made in the shape of a lobster recently popped up in my feed, thanks to a kind reader who sent this video of the dish in action. (Watch ‘til the end.)
I have a serious soft spot for porcelain made in the shape of the food inside—it’s the ultimate niche kitchen tool, which I find irresistible (look at this corn peeler!) even as our drawers and cabinets fill beyond capacity. It’s a shame I didn’t have $6,930 to drop on this lobster dish at Sotheby’s, where I also missed out on this giant silver strawberry box, which is probably not for serving strawberries, but if I were rich enough to afford it, I’d fill the bottom with ice and then load it up with berries and cream to eat poolside. (We do not have a pool.)
Maybe it’s because the Meissen lobster is both cute and slightly menacing, but it got me thinking about Jeff Koons and his lobster…
…which looks like a floaty but is actually made of (much more durable) polychromed aluminum! People love to hate on Jeff Koons, and I get it: he’s rich, has a permanently smarmy face, and made questionable art with his porn star (now ex-)wife. But taken in small doses, I have to admit that I (guiltily) enjoy what Koons has to offer, which in my view is a playful, post-Pop update on the readymade with some trompe l’oeil mixed in for good measure.
We could have a debate—and surely others have—about whether Koons’s work is everything that’s wrong with art under late-late capitalism and its gross celebration of wealth and frivolity while the world literally burns… but right now I’m choosing to find joy in this lobster because sometimes art is allowed to be an escape, even when it seems right at home in one of the world’s biggest monuments to the excesses of state power. Sigh.
While we’re talking about capitalist excess, though, allow me to present one last lobster for now, which is really a trio of lobsters in various stages of dismemberment:
Painted this year by recent Kent State MFA grad Katie Butler, Three Martini Lunch refers to the rather disgusting tax break for corporate meal expenses that was part of the initial COVID relief package passed by Congress last year. There’s much more to say about Katie’s work, but I’m saving that for next week, when I’ll be publishing an interview with Katie on the paintings she’s presenting at the Spring/Break Art Show in New York. Stay tuned!
For Further Eating
We’re still unpacking and our toddler is boycotting naps and I’ve never cooked lobster at home, ever, so this was not going to be the time to track down live lobsters, bust out my giant pot to murder said lobsters, only to then have to crack all those shells and extract lobster meat. I’m ambitious but I’m not insane. I also haven’t had time for a three-martini lunch out on the town… so my best option was to find a lobster roll close to home, which I did at the Lobsta Truck! I used to eat their rolls every now and again while I was working at LACMA, where a slew of trucks used to park every day right across from the museum. The rolls are solid despite having to eat them in less than ideal (read: non-beach) circumstances.
Lucky for me, the Lobsta Truck now parks in West LA every Thursday, just 10 minutes from my house. I dragged myself over there last week and got this beauty:
I had the option of melted butter or mayo, and even though I pretended to carefully consider both while I waited in line, I’m solidly a mayo girl. Every time. And the Lobsta Truck gets the proportions right—the mayo is just enough to cohere everything inside a buttery split-top brioche, but not enough to distract from the main event, that beautifully cooked, melt-in-your-mouth lobsta meat.
The critical question is: Are you Team Butter or Team Mayo?