A soft spot for the Twinkie in art

Saturday, March 12, 2005

PITTSBURGH -- A child plucks a Twinkie from a tree, as if it grew there.

Another Twinkie is used in a re-imagining of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

Such are the interpretations of the snack by members of the American Society of Media Photographers' Pittsburgh chapter.

For its annual object show, held at Point Park University this year, the group selects one object that members must incorporate in their creations. Past items have included an umbrella, a baseball and a piece of wire.

"This is like our big, fun thing to do," said Tom Altany, chairman of the exhibition committee.

So why the famous cream-filled yellow cake?

"Twinkies are fun," said Altany, whose wife suggested using them.

After his wife came up the idea, Altany contacted Interstate Bakeries Corp. -- the Kansas City, Mo., company that makes the Hostess snack -- to see if they'd be willing to help. Turns out, the Twinkie will turn 75 years old this May and the company supplied nearly 1,000 Twinkies for the artists and to be given away at the show, which runs through April 7, Altany said.

"We thought it was a great fit for us," said Jacques Roizen, chief marketing officer for Interstate Bakeries, noting Twinkies are part of American culture.

Indeed.

In 1999, seniors from Shoreline, Wash., chose the Twinkie as "an object of American symbolism" to be included in the nation's time capsule.

And after former San Francisco supervisor Dan White killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, the defense argued diminished capacity due in part to junk food consumption. The tactic came to be known as the "Twinkie Defense."

While Roizen said Twinkies must have been used as art before, he was unaware of a specific example -- although it's sometimes used in culinary creations.

Roizen is quick to defend charges that Twinkies are junk food. "Twinkies has got a really funny reputation," he said.

While he acknowledges Twinkies stand for indulgence, high calories and are thought of as a kid's snack, he said they have fewer calories than a candy bar and "way more than 50 percent" are eaten by adults.

Several photographers appreciated being able to eat their subject.

"I hadn't eaten a Twinkie in probably 20 years," Altany said. "If you get the Twinkie fresh from the factory, oh, you can't believe the difference."

Archie Carpenter's piece, "When the Twinkie is Gone," consists of nine different images on foam boards, each image the bits of cake left after the Twinkie is peeled from its backing.

Two dozen photographs make up the exhibit. One features rows of Twinkies in a heavy green tint, giving it a chunky, graphic feel. Perhaps a nod to Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol?

In another, a Twinkie stands in for a stone pillar at Stonehenge.

Oddly enough, three photographs display the Twinkie in a tree as though it were some sort of fruit.

Greg Blackman, who shot one of them, said his is a parody of the Mary Cassatt painting, "Young Women Picking Fruit," at the Carnegie Museum of Art. His 9-year-old twins, Jonah and Tobias, stand in for the women.

And yes, he said, his boys loved eating the Twinkies.

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