When Marie Antoinette was told that the people of France were starving, she supposedly responded, “Let them eat cake.” Now, thanks to Los Angeles-based performance artist Elizabeth Tobias, the Queen of France's oft-quoted phrase has yet another variation: “Let them eat cupcakes.”
In her piece, “Let Them Eat Cupcakes,” Tobias explores the scale of hunger in Los Angeles through an unlikely medium. Namely, the beloved cupcake. “There is something very delightful about a cupcake and everywhere I go, if I have a cupcake in my hand, people will talk to me,” Tobias said.
Over the course of several months, Tobias travelled around Los Angles, setting up a cupcake pop-up shop of sorts everywhere from Skid Row to Beverly Hills. She bartered homemade cupcakes for stories about hunger and homelessness, which participants jotted down on an index card. The results were more varied than the flavor-of-the-day at Beverly Hills cupcake mecca Sprinkles.
One card read, “Need a job and house.” Another said, “I feel that I won't (sic) a million dollars.”
“At first, people thought she was representing some kind of food company but she was very adamant about the request that you can get this but you have to participate,” said Peter Mays, executive director of the Los Angeles Art Association. “As you can imagine, the comments from Beverly Hills were very different from Skid Row.”
“Let Them Eat Cupcakes” is on view as part of “Measure for Measure” a group show about scale curated by Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall and artist Lia Halloran, which is on view at Chapman University through March 16. The show will travel to Harvard in the fall.
For the show, Tobias morphed her cupcake pop-up into installation art. What at first looks like a party — candy-colored sprinkles, pretty paper lanterns and handwritten notes – takes on new meaning when it is housed in a bright yellow emergency tent.
Sprinkle-covered cupcakes and emergency relief shelter? A juxtaposition not unlike Marie Antoinette's out-of-touch comment of so many years ago.
Let Them Eat Cupcakes: Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, One University Drive, Orange. For more information call 714-997-6729. The show ends March 16.