Americana: Kentucky

The Mythology of the Secret Recipe
February 10, 2009 to February 28, 2009

If, as I have said, the things already listed were all we had to contribute, America would have made no distinctive and unique gift to mankind. But there has been also the American Dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability and achievement.
—“ James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America

Kentucky, with its rolling bluegrass meadows, white fences, pillared old mansions, and rich aromas wafting from warm kitchens, is the state where Colonel Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. His life and the legend of the restaurant he created are often referenced as a dynamic example of the realization of the American Dream. Based on the idea of "serving people the best chicken," Sanders' dream was not only to promote his quality product around the world, but also to personify Kentucky's reputation for southern hospitality. However, Sanders' original vision seems to have been reduced and distorted over time and is not as ideal as it once was.

Sanders started out by serving meals from his living quarters in a service station. Over many years, he refined his unique method for cooking chicken and concocted his secret recipe. Based on this recipe, he launched a restaurant franchise at age 65 with only $100 of savings. Less than 10 years later, Sanders sold the business for $2 million. His success story motivated many people to succeed in life through persistence and hard work.

Kentucky Fried Chicken developed from a small family-owned restaurant, based on the blend of spices that Sanders combined by hand, into a multi-million dollar international corporation, defining the business model of "fast and cheap." The blueprint Colonel Sanders envisioned half a century ago of home-cooked quality food has gradually degraded into the notorious KFC restaurants standing along the highway in contemporary America.

Traditionally, the American Dream refers to the freedom people have in this country to realize their goals of success, fame, and wealth through diligence and creativity. However, the exploitive conditions of capitalism have gradually eroded this dream, replacing it with a philosophy of "get rich quick." Today KFC exemplifies the concept of instant food and an ideology of instant wealth. The American Dream is only a "dream" after all, consistently conflicting with reality. The concept of the secret recipe remains a myth, which uncannily mirrors the mythology of the American Dream.

Enticed by the neon sign reading "THE SECRET RECIPE," viewers of The Mythology of the Secret Recipe are invited to explore the secret to success by looking through the hole. Through the lens of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the most obvious but overlooked legacy of the Bluegrass state, the exhibition examines one of the American mythical identities.

Curated by Xiaoyu Weng

Special thanks to John Hobart Culleton, Jim Rizzo and Avra Spector

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