Books

Is Pizza Box Art the Most Underappreciated Art?

Pizza Box Art
Photographs from “Viva La Pizza!” (all images courtesy Melville House Books unless otherwise indicated)

How much time do you spend looking at the art on a pizza box? Probably barely a glance, since the art is generally indistinctively hideous or such a mundane scene of anywhere-town idealized Italy that it barely registers with your hungry self at all.

Pizza Box Art
Cover of “Viva La Pizza!” (photograph by the author)

Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box, the exuberantly named book by Scott Wiener published this week by Melville House, includes a hundred of the boxes, from the generic red and green boxes that feature checkered tablecloths and abstracted slices that characterize the New York City pizza joint, to the wildly vibrant boxes of Japan. And Wiener analyzes them very seriously as an art, having spent five years collecting them himself as part of his ongoing pizza obsession that has manifested in his business Scott’s Pizza Tours and ongoing pizza writing, including a column for Pizza Today Magazine (yes, that’s a thing).

As he states in the book: “As I built my collection, it occurred to me that pizza box art might be the most underappreciated medium of our time. […] When I finally started connecting with the artists who created the box art, it became clear that these images were by far their best-known works — and were works they were proud of.”

Pizza Box Art
A Valentine’s Day box and a copyright-averting Simpsons tribute

There is definitely some argument you could make about the boxes being more advertising than art, but uncovering stories of the artists does make it a more meaningful medium. For example, there’s Italy-based Luca Ciancio, who has illustrated over 250 pizza boxes, starting each time with acrylic and watercolor, noting that he prefers “the use traditional techniques” since “pizza is traditional.” Sadly for those of us eating pizza pies stateside, we don’t tend the get the richly detailed boxes like those Ciancio makes, deprived of yet another artistic wonder while Italy basks in their horde. There are also people like box designer John Correll, a developer of over 40 box structures, including one made to break down to store leftovers. In what this writer considered the most awesome box in the book, the New Zealand-based Hell’s Pizza uses an adaptation of this so that the box actually folds into a small coffin “for your remains.”

Pizza Box Art
The joy of repetition on pizza boxes, shown in “Viva La Pizza!” (photograph by the author)

The detail to which Wiener chronicles the boxes is kind of insane, noting the “flute” of the boxes, meaning the “frequency” of the corrugated cardboard’s waves, or remarking on a speciality box that was the only one to not have a company’s logo, much as a coin collector might rejoice in a penny printed off-center. These kinds of things likely won’t resonate much with the average pizza consumer, who may be left feeling like buying a pizza more than checking out the box’s typography when the food arrives.

Pizza Box Art
A pizza box cafe scene
Pizza Box Art
Japanese Domino’s box
Pizza Box Art
Ed Hardy-designed pizza box

Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box by Scott Wiener is now available from Melville House Publishing. 

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