Colonel of Truth?

So reads a recent press release from the artist Cruz Nardini; the only words of explanation he has offered to the public so far. Since the controversy began, Nardini has been in seclusion in his studio at Bridgewater Township, a small Connecticut hamlet of artists and manufacturers of pleasure craft.

Outside art circles, Nardini is not widely known. He received some note in 1987 for his work "Green Covered by Black," a sculpture of TV's Gumby bent into a relaxed position, drenched in crude oil. Three years later, he gained attention for "Cupcake Marathon Death," a piece featured at New York's notorious Turmoil Gallery consisting of a clay likeness of Little Debbie clutching a snack cake, spinning on a turntable with the speed control nailed symbolically to 78.

Despite Nardini's recurring choice of what seem to be intentionally disturbing themes--the ritual transmogrification of beloved American cultural icons--some experts defend his creations.

"Art is all about what you think about it," rationalizes nationally recognized art critic Bridgette Flavor. "And if you think about it at all, then it is art."

The pro-Sanders backlash against the "OCACFO" showing has even brought Washington, D.C., into the fray.

"Nardini's craven exhibit goes way beyond just being an insult to the Colonel. This is an insult to fried chicken, and, therefore, an insult to a staple of the American nourishment regimen," exhorts Robert Plumerepas, executive director of the National Council on Edible Fowl.

"The NCEF promotes the role fried chicken has played in the culinary makeup of our country, not only from a fundamental, historical perspective, but in terms of the overall sociodietary-economic spectrum. To me, this work of art--and it honestly sickens me to use such a term--is nothing more than a vulgar stab at the ingenuity of an American icon. Ingenuity that has given us Extra Tasty Crispy, Tender Roast and, of course, Original Recipe."

Prominent poultry sociologist Alfred Bantam-Spence, author of the acclaimed 1992 best seller And They Walked on Three Toes, provides background:

"You must realize that fried chicken arrived in the New World along with the first Europeans, who had handed down preparation techniques for generations. Prior to that, American Indian tribes were well-aware of the savory and nutritional qualities--fried and otherwise--of the chicken's close relative, the turkey," explains the professor. "This serendipitous confluence of indigenous recipes provided the first palpable bond between the two ethnic groups; what some anthropologists have since referred to as 'the commonality of succulence.'

"From there, chicken--in a fried sense--went on to grace the tables of rich and poor, slave and master, laborer and king of industry," continues Bantam-Spence. "And, certainly, one must acknowledge the international impact of the tributary dishes: a la king, breasts amandine, tarragon, curry-baked, smothered. The list goes on and on.

"When Colonel Harland Sanders introduced his chicken in the mid-Thirties, it was a major addition to flavor and skin texture that has yet to be duplicated. Popeye's, Church's, even Kenny Rogers' Roasters--none has come close. And, as a professional sociologist, the element that intrigues me most is the character of Sanders himself. He is much more than a representative of fast-food fowl; the white-linen suit, the attitude of grace and the avuncular congeniality are evocative of a simpler, grander America.

"And, in their own fashion, the Colonel's mashed potatoes and gravy are actually quite compelling as well."

Though Bantam-Spence admits that he has not personally visited the exhibit, he feels, based on Nardini's piece, that "the show cannot possibly have any redeeming values, regardless of whatever gastronomic rights certain antichickenists may be presenting."

I remember prayin' to God Almighty, "You've helped me in the past, and I need Your help now, God. And I promise You, if this idea of franchising works out because of Your blessing, You'll get Your share."

Thus wrote Colonel Harland Sanders himself in his 1974 autobiography Life, As I Have Known It, Has Been Finger Lickin' Good. Yes, apparently He made the "franchising work," much to the delight of the Colonel and chicken lovers everywhere.

But to Cruz Nardini--and perhaps to others--Sanders' Kentucky Fried empire is something that doesn't work. And, yes, that is the beauty of America, where food is art and art is life and fingers are allowed to be pointed at issues, be they finger-lickin' good or not.

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