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Photos: Vintage Menu Exhibition Explores L.A.'s Restaurant History

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If you're as big of a fan of L.A.'s beautifulvintage menus from classic (and wacky) L.A. restaurants as we are, then you're going to totally dig a new exhibition at the Los Angeles Central Library.

Beginning Saturday, the Getty Gallery will transform into a cool exhibition showcasing the best of the library's vintage menu collection, while also exploring the social and political context of L.A.'s food culture. More than just a static installation, "To Live and Dine in L.A."—as the exhibit is known—will offer interactive opportunities both onsite and online. Josh Kun, the exhibition's curator and USC communications professor, tells LAist, "In order to interact with the materials, you’ll have to sit down and look at the menus next to strangers. You’ll sit at various tables, from lunch counters to elegant banquet tables to diner booths, and think about food from the vantage point of sitting down at the table."

With the help of outspoken L.A. food ambassador Roy Choi and USC students, Kun sifted through the library's archival collection of roughly 9,000 menus to choose the highlights for the exhibition. Visitors will explore rare first edition menus from the city's most iconic restaurants, including The Brown Derby, David Hockney's design for Ma Maison and awesome tiki bars from L.A.'s Polynesian craze. The menus will be accompanied by examinations of the social, racial, gender and other political implications of the menus, while also placing the menus within the context of L.A.'s history. Kun tells us:

The exhibit features historical menus, but is trying to put them in context with contemporary issues. The big issues looming over this whole project is the state of food insecurity, food injustice, food access in contemporary Los Angeles. Part of my hope is that people view this project as a way to think about those issues. How do these historical menus get us to think differently about the contemporary city, or raise our consciousness about where our food comes from, who’s been privlidged to be able to food on a regular basis, what neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have multiple dining establishments and why.
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Kun has also added an interactive, crowdsourced portion to the show, known as #MyLAMenu, where visitors or anyone online can fill out a blank menu and upload their 'ultimate L.A. menu'. The menus will be shared at the exhibition and on social media.

The exhibition will also feature archival photos of people of all stripes dining in L.A. restaurants over the decades, as well as images of the people working in restaurants and on local farms to "give a sense of the multiple layers of food culture," according to Kun. L.A.-based artists Haruko Tanaka, Karla Diaz, and the collective Fallen Fruit, have also created installations that explore the economic, social and cultural aspects of food.

In addition to the exhibition, Kun is also releasing an accompanying book of the same title, published by Angel City Press. The book features an intro from Choi, as well as guest essays from the likes of L.A.'s Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and others.

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