CULTURE MONSTER

Artists' immersive cake castle is a sugary installation with a dark twist

Welcome to Candyland. Or “the frosted ghetto,” as artists Scott Hove and Baker's Son call it.

The duo built a 7,000-square-foot cake castle and candied urban block party called “Break Bread,” which opens Saturday in downtown L.A.’s Think Tank Gallery. The six-room cake maze -- made from delicious-looking spackle and house paint topped with real candy – resembles ornately decorated, pillowy white cake with sugar cream frosting. Chandeliers made of shimmering hard candies and gumdrops dangle from the ceiling. Circus mirrors embedded in cake give the illusion that the sugary oasis stretches on for infinity.

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“It really captures peoples’ emotions and imagination, immediately, when they walk in,” says Hove, who was a participating artist in Banksy’s Dismaland last year. “People have a lot of positive associations with cake. It appeals to a very primitive part of our brain.”

The cake maze leads to a companion food-centric installation – a late '80s Bay Area street scene of a block party created by L.A. painter Baker's Son (a.k.a., Keith Magruder). The area features nostalgic elements from Magruder’s childhood: an ice cream truck he hand-built, a hip-hop soundtrack and the artist’s watercolors of melting ice cream, popsicles, TV dinners and other comfort foods of his youth.

But not all is sweet in Candyland. “Break Bread” has a decidedly dark side.

Magruder’s street scene includes a basketball court with an altar of candles and flowers under the hoop, where someone was shot and killed. Among Hove’s many cake sculptures are reproductions of Uzi guns, which he painted pink and blue and decorated with frosting, cherries and orange slices. There’s also a campy, theatrical horror house inside the cake chamber, drenched in black paint and featuring a cage filled with garlands made of real cow bones.

“There’s a dualistic element to all this -- the aggressiveness, the potential for violence, then it starts telling a story that people can relate to,” Hove says. “As we’re striving for celebration in our lives, there are a lot of obstacles that are not pleasant. As we’re sipping champagne at a party, there are people in Syria getting massacred – and that needs to be reflected in art. We tried to bring the two together, the dark and the light.”

At the same time, Hove says, “I want people to walk in and have a really enjoyable, peak beauty experience.”

The seemingly edible gallery space will host a month of culinary and cultural events, including artist talks, supper clubs and brunches, cabaret performances, interactive theater and comedy shows. The lounge area, the sugary boudoir of the cake castle, features a stage and a bar. Cirque du Soleil will hold two performances of its more sultry adult show, “Zumanity,” there.

During the run of the installation, there will be seven private dining events hosted by Feastly, a San Francisco “pop up dining platform” making its L.A. debut. If that sounds a tad corporate, it is. Meals aren’t cheap -- roughly $45-$135 – but they’re food-as-performance “experiences” catered by celebrity and well-known chefs. Becky Reams, of Fox’s “MasterChef,” will put on a “Bang Bang Brunch”; Jonathan Tran, of Ink, will conceive a five-course, farm-to-table dinner with live art taking place by Baker’s Son; Mbombo Restaurant will stage a African feast, complete with a live drum circle.

L.A.-based comedy troupe Wet the Hippo will stage its live improv show, “The Murge,” and Brew Ha Ha, a comedy show-drinking game hybrid typically staged in an East Hollywood backyard, will make a one-night-only appearance.  

On a more serious note, there will be two immersive theater events, both utilizing the entire gallery-turned-cake-maze. “ALONE in cACHEland” will give hourlong, narrated tours of the space that each visitor embarks on alone; the experience is meant to explore the depths of the mind and soul. Arya Davachi’s “Rough Sleeper” plumbs participants’ dreams for drama.

“This is a culture that people are gonna consume the [heck] out of – gorgeous, lavish events,” Hove says. “I’m interested in extreme decadence, sort of the fall of Rome decadence, decadence that happens at the cost of everything else.”

Charlie had his chocolate factory. Angelenos with a taste for the indulgent have “Break Bread.”  Proceed with caution.

"Break Bread" is free to view from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays, through March 13. Events are individually ticketed: www.breakbreadla.com

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin   

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