As fans of determining whether something is an everyday object or a delicious baked good know, there is almost nothing more fun than shout–asking, “Is it cake??” For the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, the answer is a resounding “yes,” as the results of the third annual Great Blanton Bake-Off have been announced.
The contest, conceived in 2020 by Lizabel Stella, the Blanton’s social media and digital content manager, asks art lovers and amateur and professional bakers to recreate a work from the Blanton’s collection in edible treat form. In addition to a regular collection and a host of contemporary exhibitions, the museum is famous for Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin,” built into the museum’s architecture.
“I feel really honored that [participants] are putting time aside in their personal lives to create a work of art from our collection and they always seem to be having fun with it,” Stella told University of Texas student newspaper The Daily Texan. “I feel like baking is something that appeals to all ages because it’s so multisensory. You can’t eat or smell art … so this is a completely new way for people to engage with art from our collection.”
Competition was fierce among the Adult Amateur category, with riffs on everything from Ray Johnson to a red-figure Apulian plate dating back to around 340 BCE. Ultimately, a competitive and humorous field was eclipsed by some expert joconde Imprime work by Blythe Johnson. The technique involves baking a design directly into a sponge cake (rather than simply using the decorative layer of the cake to figure the artwork), and perfectly suited the gentle geometrics of Mac Wells’s “Untitled, Meander Paintings, River” (1968), in whose likeness it was created. Shout-out to Lois Rodriquez for an iteration of the sculpture “The Barefoot Clown” (1999) by Tré Arenz (aka Tre Arenz) that offers the disgusting opportunity to eat a foot, and would surely have run the table on Nailed It (get it?!).
The Adult Professional category was a tighter competition, with a series of works on postcards from the Blanton’s collection, converted to cookie form by Hannah Erwin, taking top prize. This beat out a pie by Christine Williams of the Austin bake shop Cookies del Mundo in what is perhaps a miscarriage of justice, as cookie art is a medium with many icing possibilities, but pie offers limited means and requires a sculptural touch. Regardless, the results look all-around delicious, which is hard to say about a pie that has been tinted blue (you made the right choice with blueberry filling there, Christine).
Finally, the junior bakers came through, a small field that nonetheless proves there is hope for the future. The top prize was taken by Georgia Gross, who meticulously reconstructed a colorful tapestry by Luis Montiel in friendly-looking fondant, but one must frankly tip the hat to the raw ambition of runner-up Jules Beesley, who attempted a functional rendition of the 1987 work of installation art by Cildo Meireles “Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals).” Beesley built a net-covered scaffolding over his cake, the top of which was adorned with golden chips to imitate the 600,000 coins that filled the well of Meireles’s piece. If we haven’t got a baker on our hands, we’ve at least got an arteest.
But really, everyone is a winner when it comes to competitive baking, because even if you have to eat humble pie, at least you also get to eat regular pie. As Stella emphasized in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, the point of the event is to feel good.
“We’re going through a lot of hard things and political stuff right now,” Stella said. “It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take a break — not to ignore the things that are happening, but to make time for the things that move you,” said Stella. “This moves me. I’m gonna make a cake. It’s very simple.”