Stepping into the small office suite in midtown Manhattan, I half expected to find gurgling pots filled with caramelizing crystals, molds crusted with chocolate, and white powder dusting the doorway. Instead, in the headquarters of the sugar/art company Kreëmart, I found a cluster of normal-looking rooms with a small kitchen. The company’s director and founder, Raphael Castoriano, offered me a cup of tea and a variety of sweeteners, saying, “Pick your poison.” The bottle he held must have contained simple syrup, but, feeling suspicious, I opted for unsweetened tea instead. I sat down with Castoriano and his programs manager Simone Sutnick to discuss Kreëmart’s newest edible endeavor.
Castoriano explained that sugar is an ideal medium for art because both sugar and art are “not necessities—they are luxuries.” His first foray into the sugar medium was in 2009, at the American Patrons of Tate Modern show. He teamed up with pastry chefs at the Milanese pasticceria and confetteria Sant Ambroeus and the artists Teresita Fernández, Ghada Amer, and Vik Muniz. The artists were no strangers to molding and sculpting, though perhaps not in material as frangible as frangipane. The evening’s most memorable reveal was two cakes crafted into the shapes of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Amer decimated the cake politicians’ heads with a hammer, exposing the simulacrums’ respective strawberry and raspberry guts.
Kreëmart’s most recent project is a collaboration between the Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic and the Parisian bakery and patisserie Ladurée, a frequent manufacturer of Castoriano’s concepts. In 2010, Ladurée and Kreëmart created a chocolate mold of Abramovic’s mouth to commemorate the artist’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The show included a performance piece in which Abramovic spent over seven hundred hours sitting in complete silence across from strangers who waited in line for the opportunity. Many of the participants were so moved by the piece that they cried.
Marina Abramovic’s Taste, which debuted at London’s Frieze week and will later be for sale in Paris, Tokyo, Milan, Los Angeles, and New York, provides another way of consuming Abramovic’s body. It’s a highly customized macaron—Ladurée’s signature cookie-like treat with two delicate shells encasing a sweet cream or jam-based filling—embodying facets of the artist’s identity. The macarons are Prussian blue and stamped with the Abramovic family’s coat of arms. One is painted with edible gold leaf. The black triangle box in which they are served is meant to evoke mystery and Abramovic’s cosmic number (yes, that’s a thing, and it’s three). When asked about the specifics of the flavor, Castoriano replied with words that you’d expect Natalie Portman to whisper breathily in a Miss Dior perfume ad: “Smoky, lingering, sensual.”
Ideally, Abramovic would silently stare at each person as they ate her macaron (with or without tears). Instead, she is there in video form at the Ladurée debut locations, inviting people to take the first bite—Sutnick would say inviting them to eat Abramovic herself. You might, like me, notice the implicit sexuality in this suggestion. Or you might think of the wafer representing the body of Christ. Or you might be Catholic and think, with guilt, of both combined. Whatever your background, Sutnick says, eating Abramovic will form an instant and enduring memory. The flavor is so unique that it can’t be adulterated with any preexisting notion of the taste. In theory, Marina Abramovic’s Taste—art rendered in sugar rather than in something as esoteric as paint—subverts the consumerism of its own medium, creating a universal experience for any who taste it.
In theory. The person biting the cookie could be a well-to-do London gallerist who studied Abramovic’s work in grad school. It could also be, let’s say, my brother-in-law—an army physician from a Colorado mining town whose pastimes include hunting and weight lifting. One might be predisposed to having an artistic experience. She’d savor the bite as a ritualistic piece of conceptually titillating sugar art. The other, noticing the cost of eighty-five euros a box, might decline to find out.
After Marina Abramovic’s Taste debuts in various cities, the public will be able to commission their own customized macaron, as part of Castoriano’s “Pastry Portrait” series. The first step is filling out Castoriano’s “Papillae Questionnaire,” a set of questions that starts with “What’s your state of mind,” plumbs your relationships with and memories of taste, and concludes with basic food-allergy questions. Your dietary restrictions and your psyche are equally important in discovering your flavor.
The questionnaire is sure to entice anyone who has ever completed Internet quizzes like What Cookie Flavor Would You Be? (Guilty. Shortbread.) But I fear that we lose sight of the artistic experience promised by an identity-imbued macaron. Maybe translating your Papillae answers into pastry will actualize, however temporarily, key factors of your personality. Maybe your loved ones will take a bite of your flavored cream filling and gain a new understanding of you. That enlightenment—the memory of a few transcendent bites entirely worth their price—might endure for years.
Or, like a sugar crystal on your tongue, it could dissolve in a moment, unremembered until the next sweet source of ego stroking comes along.
Hannah Foster is a freelance arts and culture writer based in New York City.