Edible Icons, 2000




Edible Icons are real Matzos covered with gold leaf in a labor intensive process,

taking up to one month to complete.

Each Matzo is unique.

The surfaces change and mysteriously look like ancient tablets when photographed.


Matzos are the first fast food.

They cook for only 18 minutes.

I create a signed, limited edition of 18 Edible Icons every year.

The number 18 means life in Hebrew.

Bread is fundamental in every culture; French bread, Italian bread, fortune cookies...


Matzos are a symbol of freedom since they were created by the Jewish people during the exodus from Egypt as something quick and durable to eat in the desert.


Edible Icons are in both public and private collections all over the world and are known to bring good luck to all who own them.


Gold leaf on matzo in plexiglass boxes
7x7x1” | 18x18x2.5cm
Installation 180 Edible Icons at Chataqua Institute

Related exhibition: Edible Icons

Edible Icons

108 gold leafed Matzos and Video installation

June 14–August 8, 2000

Excerpts from Media and Cultural Content, Art and Personal Experience

A conversation between Barbara Rose, Art Critic and Historian and Judi Harvest at The Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts

July 30, 2000

Introduction to the audience by Barbara Rose:

First of all, you are all part of an ongoing “Barbara and Judi media project” that we are working on for Venice, where she lived for many years. Eventually it will be part of a larger work of Judi's called Rhinoscimento. Since I make documentary films, I was interested in collaborating with an artist whose work I found particularly interesting. Cynnie Gaasch (the gallery director) is giving you the very true impression that there is nepotism going on here. I find that if you like the artist, you tend to like their art and vice-versa. I knew Judi before I knew Judi's art. We met on a terrace of a hotel in Capri. I noticed this woman wearing a big straw hat with flowers and I thought, what a fabulous looking Italian woman. As I was staring at her, she walked up to the person I was with and began speaking in Italian. I said, “You speak perfect Italian, but are you American?” She was the American artist, Judi Harvest. The current project Judi is exhibiting here, Edible Icons, gold leafed matzos, is a separate part of the ongoing investigation of her own biography. Judi's work is based on her life experiences. For her, there is no separation between her art and her life. Earlier today I noticed Judi was wearing gold pants, maybe part of her upbringing in Miami, and I mentioned she had dressed like her installation. She said that was in fact true.

BR: Tell us about your work.

JH: The theme underlying my work is the fragility of life and the transformation of beauty. Edible Icons is a labor-intensive installation of 108 gold leafed matzos. I made the first one as a gift for someone who invited me to their house for Passover in 1992. Passover is a holiday in the spring which celebrates the exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery for the Jewish people. Everyone loved the first Edible Icon so I decided to make an edition of eighteen. Matzos cook for eighteen minutes and the number eighteen in Hebrew means life. Bread is also a staple of life in every culture. Having this exhibition has given me the opportunity to investigate the spiritual side of my work. Seder means order in Hebrew and Passover is a holiday built around discussions.

BR: As a classically trained artist, why did you decide to add objects ti your work? Do you see your work related to Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns?

JH: I was an abstract painter for many years, strictly paint on canvas. When I moved from New York to Venice, I returned to figurative work.

Venice by its very nature is a figurative place. Since my work is so involved with life, objects by chance found their way into and onto my work. The velvet motorized flowers or lights that need to be turned on, candelabras with candles that need to be lit, keeps one in touch, literally, with the work.

BR: "Maintenance Participation," it's a new concept. But go back to this very elaborate literary and iconographic context in your work. How do you expect the audience to understand everything that is in your mind?

JH: I don't want them to, frankly. I am here today explaining my work for the first time in my life. I never thought that was necessary. I believe people need to bring their own inner thoughts to art. The idea of making 108 gold leafed Matzos frightened me a bit, I thought it would become boring, since I never seem to be able to do the same thing twice. It became a very Zen-like experience for me. The process had a beginning, middle and end. That is why I decided to make the video of myself making the work, to communicate the process to the viewers.

BR: Did you mean this very minimal grid piece as a kind of comment on minmal grid art? For example, Agnes Martin, which it reminds me of, but at the same time, it is literally, Matzo. Is that a kind of subversive comment? Were you aware that you were kind of making an "in joke" about art, or was it simply a formal idea?

JH: No, by its nature, Matzo is square. However, references to Agnes Martin or Carl Andre are flattering and may be unconsciously there. I was thrilled to thinks I was finally creating a truly minimal piece, since my work is usually very complicated. Then I started thinking about that. It is both minimal and somewhat maximal in content. Matzo is an object that comes with its own history and baggage. On one side, you can look at it as a simple “tile.” On the other side, it has all kinds of references people bring to it. Someone even said it reminded them of the doors of the Baptistry in Florence or tablets with Sanskrit on it. Was I thinking of it in a religious way? Not really, but one can't help it. The very idea that they are easily stacked and moved from place to place symbolizes the nomadic existence of the Jewish people. There was no time to bake bread, therefore the Matzo could possibly be the first fast food.

BR: I want to ask you a question: it seems like each work gives birth to a work afterwards. Since you are always moving around, you are sort of a nomadic person. How is it that you keep that sense of continuity with your own work and your thought process?

JH: Because it is all the same theme, the fragility of life, based on the search for beauty.

BR: There is a compulsive/obsessive aspect to your work. Do you think that is true for all great artists, the need to do this thing you do?

JH: I think there is this thing that we need to do, but there is also the discipline that real artists have that is never talked about. I had an exhibition in Venice in 1990 where I created an installation including three large paintings titled “Commitment,” “Sacrifice” and “Joy.” These are the real ingredients for anything, not just art.

Questions from the audience:

Q: You said one of your works was inspired by a cemetery. Why were the shoes there?

JH: Shoes are a symbol of death. Some religions burn the person’s shoes upon death. I think a lot of art is really about death. This particular piece, “And They All Became Musicians,” was inspired by walking through the Jewish cemetery in Prague, so the shoes had a specific reference in this case.

Q: You say you find stuff in the street or on the beach and bring it back to your studio. Do you use it right away or does it sit around?

JH: It depends. I occasionally edit the stuff, but it’s not easy.

BR: Another characteristic is that artists have stuff, different kinds of materials. They all have stuff around that, for one reason or another, they think “maybe one day I’ll need this.” They accumulate.

JH: The art critic Enzo Di Martino reviewed one of my first exhibitions in Venice and wrote, “We don’t know if these things find her, or if she finds them.”

BR: Which brings me to another point. The real artist makes their work out of their own necessity. They need to do this. I mean, why is Judi up in that tree painting it coral? Speaking of obsessive/compulsive! No one said, “Judi, here is a Public Art Commission, get out and do this.” No, she needs to see the tree as a coral piece. Artists do things because they need to do it. They need to see it.

Q This is a question for Barbara Rose: How do you decide what is good or bad art?

BR: It is the hardest question and the one that is always asked. I have spent my entire life, since I’m probably 8 years old, doing nothing but looking at art. Eventually, after making thousands of comprehensive judgements, you can tell the difference. It’s like a little bell that goes off in your head. 

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