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How "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" Made It to Kansas City

How "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" Made It to Kansas City

Catherine L. Futter first attended "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" while the exhibit was held in winter 2014 at The Drawing Center in New York.

“I love to cook and eat,” says Futter, Senior Curator of Architecture, Design and Decorative Arts at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. “I was skeptical about conveying five senses through one sense – visual. How do you engage the other senses? How do you convey smell, taste and hearing?”

Adrià, the avant-garde chef of Spain's late, great restaurant el Bulli, not only created stunning food, but also drawings that informed and shaped his culinary ideas and exploration. The exhibit charts the origins of this innovator’s intellectual and philosophical ideas about gastronomy, which have changed how we understand food. Sketches, models, diagrams and other tools that Adrià used to develop his innovative cookery give visitors a glimpse of the chef’s creativity.

While viewing the exhibit, Futter’s training as a curator kicked into high gear.

“I came away from the exhibit excited," she recalls. "It made me understand his creativity and opened the door to learn more about Adrià, his history, process and cooking.”

Inspired, Futter reached out to Julián Zugazagoitia, director of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and plans were gradually set in motion to bring "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" to Kansas City. It will be on view this Saturday, February 28, through August 2.

Kansas City is one of only five international stops on the exhibit’s tour.

“It’s not a normal Nelson-Atkins exhibition,” says Futter. “Viewing it, you really need to slow down and see what Adrià is doing through graphics and models. It is not a five-minute walk-through. Labels, slide shows of the extraordinary creations and films about Adrià and his process help a lot.”

The exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins didn’t undergo any major changes from the original version. Futter worked closely with Brett Littman, executive director of The Drawing Center and original curator of the exhibit, to bring the experience to life.

Futter’s advance curatorial work involved considering the audience for an art exhibit about food. Food intersects with history, science and culture.

As with a painting or ceramic work, Futter begins by looking at the origins of the piece and its context.

For instance, she may decode the ancestry of a ceramic pot by considering its material and the history and geography of the era. Was the object precious? What politics, technology and social life were in play at the time?

“I unpack layers to learn how it all began,” says Futter. Then she asks herself, “How do I put it back together? Looking at Ferran Adrià’s work, it makes you think. Who made up cooking at a certain temperature? He breaks it down at every level.”

Today, we take the availability of oranges in winter for granted, but fresh citrus and baskets of fresh fruit in winter were once a special gift, Futter explains. During the 19th century, railroads enabled people and shipping companies to readily transport oranges from Florida.

Similarly, "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" prompts viewers to think about food and interrelated factors at a fundamental level with a broader context.

“Ferran Adrià is helping us to unpack food and see,” says Futter. “The exhibition also poses questions. What is creativity? What is art? Adrià is not an artist. There’s no pretension. This is the way he thinks.”

As curator, Futter hopes that viewers experience the exhibit and think about the creativity behind a work of art, a composition of music and chef’s dish. She says, “I think about the exhibition as a way to not only look into Ferran Adrià and his culinary team – his mind, process and creativity – but also open up our own ideas and think about things in different ways.”

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Arts, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri. 816.751.1278,


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Writer Pete Dulin is the author of Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, KC Ale Trail, and Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across Central Kansas and Missouri.

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