Caitlin Freeman, pastry chef for Blue Bottle Coffee and wife of founder James Freeman, took the job of creating desserts for Blue Bottle’s café at SFMOMA very seriously. She is a woman who sees desserts in everything, and who has created things like Rothko toasts, a Mondrian cake, and a frozen banana after a Mapplethorpe photo (guess which one!). She’s even written a whole cookbook of said art-inspired desserts created by her and her team. Well, it turns out that some living artists are not keen on serving as inspiration for pastry, and sculptor Richard Serra is one of them. The artist nearly came to blows, at least legally, with Blue Bottle over a cookie plate Freeman came up with. inspired by Serra’s Right Angle Plus One, a 1969 piece that’s part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Freeman’s associate Leah Rosenberg tells the whole story now on the Blue Bottle blog, after a rumor got back to her of an angry confrontation involving tears and possible “cookie stomping.” It actually wasn’t all that dramatic, but still pretty hilarious.
The gist of it is this: Blue Bottle and Food Network Magazine had to reach out to Serra directly in 2010 to get his approval to feature the cookie plate, alongside a photo of his original sculpture, in a feature about the SFMOMA desserts. The artist replied with a cease and desist, asking the museum to discontinue the cookie plate.
Then Rosenberg got the opportunity to meet Serra in person in 2011 when he appeared at the museum for an opening of an exhibit of his drawings, and she decided to try to appeal his decision. It was Serra’s wife who laid down the law in that instance, saying “You can’t do that!” and “Some people already tried to make cookies about Richard’s work!”
Rosenberg replied, “Well, I’m sorry to say that was us.” Serra then begged off to answer a cell phone call, and that was that. But her frustration lingered because, as she says, “EVERYTHING IN THE SHOW LOOKED LIKE A GIANT COOKIE!”