Let’s be clear: Salad for President is not political satire. Despite the cheeky name, it has nothing to do with last fall’s election or the current occupant of the White House. What it is about are salads—more specifically, salads as a creative practice and social connector. Having started life as a blog on Tumblr before evolving into its own multifaceted website and popular Instagram account (19K followers and counting), artist Julia Sherman’s passion project has now spawned a splashy cookbook of the same name, coming out in May from Abrams.
Sherman, a thirtysomething New York–based graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia University’s MFA program, has always had a thing for salads—for making and eating them, but especially for making and eating them with interesting people. A few years ago she decided to shift away from the collaborative conceptual-art projects she’d been doing and focus on salads. So while you won’t find her work in galleries, visit saladforpresident.com and you will find hundreds of her visually seductive photographs of fascinating people making salads, along with recipes and text by Sherman chronicling her conversations with her subjects about their lives, their work, and what’s for lunch. Some of the participants—mostly artists, cooks, and designers—come from the social circles of Sherman and her husband, Adam Katz (who heads the creative agency Imprint Projects), while others are simply people she admires and befriends, such as Laurie Anderson, Tauba Auerbach, Pepi de Boisseu, and William Wegman.
“At the moment, I don’t have a studio practice,” Sherman says. “I keep waiting for that to reemerge, but I’m exercising all of the same parts of my brain I use when making art.”
Salad for President really began to take off in 2014, after New York’s MoMA P.S.1 accepted Sherman’s proposal to build a rooftop salad garden. The logistics were a challenge (“I was standing on the sidewalk, alone, looking at this giant pile of compost that needed to be hauled up the freight elevator and thinking, How did I get into this sh**, literally?” she recounts), but within weeks her planters were brimming with rare and unusual plants. “It was kind of like Willy Wonka in salad land,” she says. Sherman helped curate several dinners and performances at P.S.1, among them Fluxus artist Alison Knowles’s restaging of her 1962 piece Make a Salad. Using the garden’s bounty, Knowles and three collaborators prepared a salad on a huge drop cloth, tossing the ingredients with a rake, and then served it while experimental percussion music was performed.
Sherman’s P.S.1 project tapped into a variety of currents, from urban farming and sustainability to food as a facilitator for community building, and in 2015 the Getty Center in Los Angeles invited her to do something similar on its campus. Again, there were special artist events, including one where Robert Irwin created a Cobb salad—for two, this time, not a crowd.
These days, in addition to producing everything for Salad for President, Sherman collaborates with chefs, restaurants, and artisans on events such as the recent Potters in Protest dinner at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, benefiting the New York Immigration Coalition. A self-described workaholic, Sherman is also creative director of Chopt, helping the salad chain with branding and overseeing its food-and-travel blog. In that role she has traveled to five countries so far, providing her with heaps of inspiration for all kinds of new recipes.
Sherman, who also regularly cooks dinner for small groups of friends at her 1890s Brooklyn brownstone, credits her college professors with instilling in her the idea that artists are better off being flexible and driven by curiosity than focusing on the demands of commercial success. “When you’re in the art world, it’s really difficult to think of alternate ways of using your creative energies that wouldn’t mean giving up,” she says, noting how artists must constantly redefine themselves. “Ultimately, it’s about figuring out how to balance what you feel is going to be successful and what makes you happy.”