The Twenty SS20 Issue

Confection: Cake

By Jo Phillips


In Wayne Thiebald’s painting, pastel tinted cakes are aligned in perfect formation, neatly decorated and proud. Triple-layered vanilla cake’s yellow sponge is topped with royal white icing and chocolate gateau flirts with a Boston cream pie. They are cakes in the window of a shop, seductive and sweet.

But who makes a huge slice of cake and puts it on the floor? A sagging piece of chocolate cake with white icing, sewn out of canvas and stuffed with fluff.

Some of Claes Oldenburg’s earliest soft sculptures, born in the 1960s, took the form of cakes, before the artist moved to huge light switches, bathtubs and car engines. Yet prior to making the huge, soft, stuffed cakes that sat looming on the floor, Oldenburg made brightly coloured cakes out plaster, painted with garish candy colours that dripped down the sides like wet icing.

Playful, sweet and familiar, both Thiebald’s paintings and Oldenburg’s sculptures are clearly Pop art, though do not dismiss this genre as superficial and purely an easy visual tease. The cakes are as much about advertising, new wealth and celebrity as Andy Warhol’s screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and Brill box sculptures. Confection is refined, but the cakes aren’t innocent, they multiply and taunt us or grow large and stand in our way. We don’t need them but we want them.

By Anne Blood