Enfilade

Exhibition | Julie Green: The Last Supper

Posted in exhibitions, obituaries, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on November 8, 2021

Installation view of Julie Green’s Last Supper exhibition, Bellevue Arts Museum.

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As noted by many news outlets—including The Art Newspaper, The Washington Post, the Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, and NPR (with an editorial by Scott Simon)—the artist Julie Green (1961–2021) died on October 12 at age 60, after battling ovarian cancer. An exhibition of 800 plates by Green is currently installed in Bellevue, Washington. While the ‘content’ of the project (the catalogue of inmates’ last meals) understandably receives the bulk of the attention, I imagine it’s impossible for most dixhuitièmistes not to see the long tradition of blue-and-white ware adaptation; and once a viewer goes there, the plates provide an indicting reminder of the historical origins of the inequities of the American criminal justice system, inequities in many cases derived from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century institutions. CH

Julie Green: The Last Supper
Bellevue Arts Museum, 4 September 2020 — 23 January 2022

800 Plates Illustrating Final Meals of US Death Row Inmates

Growing up, I admired quilts and ceramics in our Iowa home, as well as the larger-than-life historical figures and 20’ American flag made with ears of colored corn in a neighbor’s yard. Appreciation for homemade and handmade led me to paint blue food. I once shared my family’s support of Nixon and capital punishment. Now I don’t.

Oklahoma has higher per capita executions than Texas. I taught there, and that is how I came to read final meal requests in the morning paper. The Last Supper illustrates the meal requests of U.S. death row inmates. Cobalt blue mineral paint is applied to second-hand ceramic plates, then kiln-fired to 1,400 degrees by technical advisors Toni Acock and Sandy Houtman.

Of the 1,521 US executions to date, 570 occurred in Texas, the only state that doesn’t allow a final meal selection. In Texas, inmates are served the standard prison meal of the day. In states that allow a choice, traditions and restrictions vary. There is no alcohol allowed anywhere. Cigarettes are officially banned but sometimes granted. Most selections are modest. This is not surprising, as many are limited to what is in the prison kitchen. Others provide meals from local venues. Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, and Long John Silver’s are frequently selected in Oklahoma, where their fifteen-dollar allowance is down from twenty in the late 1990s. California allows restaurant take-out up to fifty dollars. Historical menus from Folsom prison, shared by April Moore, point to the 733 inmates on death row today in California. State and date of execution are listed for each plate.

While looking for a permanent home for the project, unless capital punishment ends soon, I will continue until there are 1,000 plates. For me, a final meal request humanizes death row. Menus provide clues on region, race, and economic background. A family history becomes apparent when Indiana Department of Corrections adds, “He told us he never had a birthday cake so we ordered a birthday cake for him.”

Art can be a meditation. Why do we have this tradition of final meals, I wondered, after seeing a 1999 request for six tacos, six glazed donuts, and a cherry Coke. Twenty-one years later, I still wonder.

Julie Green
8 August 2020

 

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