Lunch Hour

Lunch culture in New York City. It is a subculture that I know all too well. In my previous career as a publishing lackey the fabled industry "three martini lunch" was most certainly alive and well, and a major perk of the low paying job I was so happy to have! Business was discussed some but the social aspect of eating, drinking and learning about your colleagues is a thing that I think should be a mandatory part of every workplace- you are vulnerable and open in a way that humanizes you & your co-workers, co-workers that usually only exist on the other end of an e-mail! There are so many times when I recall the days of the exquisitely grilled swordfish sandwich, or the co-ed bathroom of The Modern, or the rowdy, headache inducing vodka infused pineapple mistakes that made for hilarious workplace memories and a feeling of community inside and outside of the maze-like halls that aren't always the most approachable spaces. So, when I saw that there was a show at the New York Public Library about the ever evolving lunch of New York City I immediately rushed to see it! Titled Lunch Hour, this show went beyond expectations, so good it made me hungry for more museums to be as historically comprehensive and still stylish in presentation as this one managed to be!

The culture of a lot of young librarians is a nerdy chic that often comes in the form of sleekly designed state of the art accessories mixed with a fondness for the vintage fonts of the letterpress! A future past aesthetic that makes sense for those working in a career that is all about making information- from any era!- accessible. This distinct style was seen in the exhibition design & the subject one that was highly conducive to a more personal, human touch.  From origins of the word lunch, to a detailed area on the malnutrition epidemics as told through school lunch programs, to the hot dog truck lifestyle this exhibit took a sweeping subject and filtered it into a cohesive, flowing, layered meditation on a major part of New York life! Moving through different eras of NY lunch lifestyles (the 50s homemaker, the bustling automat, the power lunchers, the etc.) books (cookbooks!), media (menus!), film (a compilation of the automat as the centerpiece in several Hollywood classics!) and even a nice cross section of modern/contemporary art (Claes Oldenburg made a few appearances! Even R. Crumb!) were on display in amazing settings- a pink kitchen with formica table, a long school lunch table with trays, a real automat (with original automat recipe postcards for the taking!) set the back drop for it all. O and not to mention the love of well places graphic font too as (what seemed like silkscreened?) text added to the feel of the curatorial vision. Big props to the fabricators/exhibition designers too- I feel like this style is a hard one to capture properly, bordering crafty or kitschy or sugary, and to capture it so well, while retaining the depths of information, and on this scale? Well played!

Besides making me incredibly hungry...the show was highly informative and touched on all kinds of social issues (malnutrition, racial issues, gender equality and more!) explored through the plates of lunch! So, so good! This show was also a case study in what a museum exhibition should aspire to be: informative, interactive, well designed, cohesive and timeless! Is the NYPL the new museum of choice? For me, the answer is a hearty yes! A show that can encapsulate and explore all levels of such a broad and distinct culture in a precise yet fluid way is a superb thing that I want to see more of...just like I want to see more of those Samosas I devoured in the concourse of Grand Central Station that my growling stomach fondly remembered and insisted upon after viewing this extensive portrait of a city, it's eating habits, and the social melting pot that it really is!

Lunch Hour, The New York Public Library at Bryant Park, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall. Through February 17th, 2013. M, Th, Fri, Sat: 10-6pm. Tues & Wednesday: 10-7:30pm.
Curators: Rebecca Federman and Laura Shapiro



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.