Trenton Doyle Hancock at the ICA, Philadelphia


Trenton Doyle Hancock, \

“Go Vegan” (detail) by Trenton Doyle Hancock


Trenton Doyle Hancock

Wow That’s Mean and Other Vegan Cuisine

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

April 25-August 3, 2008

A solid two-thirds of me thinks the Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition at the ICA is pretty funny, while one-third of me is mildly insulted. That one-third of me is interfering with the pleasure I should have at seeing Trenton’s glow-in-the-dark and 3-D wallpaper that adheres to the wall of the ICA’s ramp space and begins to wonder if I should be that interested in art that seems like a massive inside joke that’s gone on for far too long (ten years now. . .). You see, TDH has been developing a body of work around a self-made mythology that evolved from an argument he had with his very vegan roommates back in graduate art school. I guess these roommates were pretty militant about their veganism and gave TDH a hard time so he started an “epic tale of mortal struggle between the Mounds, a gentle human-plant hybrid, and their inbred half-cousins, the evil mutant-ape Vegans.” (from the ICA’s Gallery Notes). 

Detail of TDH’s wallpaper “Flower Bed II: A Prelude to Damnation”

The reason I’m kind of mad is I’m a vegan (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat any products produced from an animal, including eggs, cheese, etc.). I’m not a very good one (like, I took a “break” yesterday and ate some ice cream) and I don’t try to convince others to become a vegan or preach about how “evil” animal products are, but I am what I call a “lazy vegan”. I have been one for five plus years, and I plan to try to remain one. I can’t help thinking that although I like TDH’s hand-style and some of the drawings look cool, and a connect-four game and an Atari system is set up for playing in the gallery, and you get a free-pair of 3-D glasses to look at TDH’s wallpaper with. . . that Trenton Doyle Hancock is making fun of me. When someone is making fun of you it is very hard to like them.

I have been insulted and yelled at by people who eat meat and dairy many times in my life, being a vegetarian in High School was especially not easy, but I didn’t vilianize meat-eaters, creating grotesque caricatures of them. I understand that what lead Trenton to this path were no-doubt some terribly idealistic extreme young vegans, I have met such people and they can be scary, but they are no scarier then the occasional meat-eater that won’t leave you alone about being a vegetarian. Most of these extremists mellow-out with age and realize that people’s personal diets are really not all that important.  

So I have to end this review with some advice to Trenton Doyle Hancock: 

Trenton, everyone seems to really like this body of work and you obviously have talent and some great ideas, but to me, someone who actually enjoys being a vegan with occasional lapses (hey, I’m only human and very lazy) it sort of is the visual equivalent to a hate crime. I want to like you and your art but I cannot. Hate is ugly. So my advice to you is to forgive and forget and move on. You could be WAY better then this. 




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  1. May 27, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

    melissa Said,

    totally agree.
    but maybe he is a closet vegan, sneaking nutritional yeast on pasta when no one is looking, and its the kind of veganphobia equated to punching the girl he likes on the playground.

  2. May 27, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    becca Said,

    Take a joke, dude. The stuff is funny, you gotta learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself or your veganism so seriously. it’s FUN-NY.

  3. May 27, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

    Jose Said,

    I was able to listen to Hancock speak twice, and the way he created the story is a bit different from how you described it. He first started with this idea of meat-mounds and the weird ape-like creatures who eat them. Something about being able to see color and be inspired by color because of that. He had that story going for a while, and then he had the Vegan roommates, and to me it seems natural and makes the story so fun to introduce the villans as people who don’t eat meat. In his paintings you see a battle between color and the monochrome. It goes so well with the story he had been creating, plus it’s just funny and silly. PS, there are also good vegans who preach about color! I think it’s so over-the-top, that it’s poking fun at itself and it realizes it’s offensive.

  4. May 28, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

    Annette Monnier Said,

    I did mention that two-thirds of me thought it was pretty funny. . . I can take a joke and don’t take being a vegan very seriously at all (did you read the post?). Thing is, I still find the whole premise kind of weak and the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that the work is a slightly insulting waste of my time (3-D wallpaper aside, that was fun. . .) Not every joke has to be a good joke, and to each his/her own, all that.

    I have never heard Hancock speak and only have articles and gallery notes to go on. You guys are the majority on the issue, almost no one agrees with me, but hey, thought I’d put it out there.

  5. September 13, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

    Anonymous Said,

    Informante antes de hacer esto… y Tendria que ser al reves, en vez de tener una manzana, tendria que ser un pedazo de carne.

  6. September 13, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

    Marcos Said,

    Devil idiota.

  7. November 2, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

    D. Said,

    i think you need to remove yourself from the work to appreciate it. youre looking at it from a not only biased but also very superficial point of view. his work is allegorical and involves many perspectives and layers. the word vegan is the superficial starting point to examine much more complex issues of life and death, right and wrong etc. and if you’re not a serious vegan, then i don’t think you should take what he’s saying seriously either.

  8. November 2, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

    d Said,

    the visual equivalent to a hate crime?? says the lazy fake vegan? you need to remove yourself from the picture when analyzing the work. the word and concept of vegan in TDH’s work is merely a superficial jump-off to explore much more complex issues. you’re clearly not getting it. and using the word hate crime to denounce this african-american artists’ colorful and humorous work is a gross exaggeration. get over your self-righteousness.

  9. December 18, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

    Proust Said,

    Avant de parler il faut essayer.
    Propagande… pfff….

  10. January 9, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    John Said,

    I think you need to lighten up. This is art that you are writing about. I find it really funny that you are upset over the content because you are a vegan. If someting like this bothers you—- then how do you feel about the state of our economy? Get upset over real issues that are happening all over the world. Also I think you should be focussing your career writing on horticulture topics not the arts!

    John from Cleveland, Ohio

  11. May 4, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    lisa Said,

    non ho parole!….e questa sarebbe arte?

  12. June 27, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    Joel Said,

    Content is just an excuse to make art. Realization is what matters in the end. Subject matter is only a fuel. Art is expression of feelings, thoughts or ideas… never intended to be global truths, just some kind of truth(mainly for the artist). Trenton’s work is gorgeous. IT’S VERY RIDICULOUS TO TRY TO AGREE ON EVERY ARTIST’S IDEAS, THEY ARE JUST VISIONS, personal interpretations that are soo well done that appeals people.

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