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Orlando Museum of Art Candyland fantasias

Will Cotton's painting of Elle Fanning, “Icing” (2014)
Will Cotton's painting of Elle Fanning, “Icing” (2014)

Depicting women as edibles is a dicey proposition, no matter how beautifully they’re painted. A new exhibition running to June 5th at the Orlando Museum of Art shows the work of New York artist Will Cotton, whose stock in trade is images of nubile girls dressed in pastry, whipped cream, and candy. This could easily offend. Some might think it sexist to portray women as empty creatures obsessed with empty calories. Or, seeing the sets and costumes Cotton designed for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” video, they might just be grossed out by the whipped-cream-squirting bra.

And yet, the way Cotton creates his Candyland fantasias is undeniably rigorous. He bakes the pastry in his studio; he builds the cotton candy clouds and lollipop hats. The genius of this show is that it includes not just the final versions but the costumes and artifacts of that process.

Reviewers invariably praise Cotton’s classical technique. The portraits, with their dark backgrounds and glowing skin, resemble 17th-century Dutch painting. And the flawless realism with which Cotton renders these candy-coated starlets brings to mind another 17th-century vogue, vanitas paintings, still lifes including fruit, flowers and butterflies which symbolized the brevity of life and the emptiness of pleasure.

So is Will Cotton’s work just eye candy, or does it have something deeper to say? “Life is short; never skip dessert.”