Going gluten-free might be a popular dieting tip these days, but humanity’s relationship with wheat goes way back. Farmers have grown that crop since the earliest days of agriculture. As such, it makes sense that food chock-full of gluten would show up in artwork created by masters ranging from Pieter Bruegel to Andy Warhol. But what would some of the world’s most famous paintings, photographs and movies look like if gluten was entirely taken out of the equation?
One tongue-in-cheek project is exploring that question. Arthur Coulet is the French artist behind The Gluten-Free Museum, a blog that takes classic and iconic pieces of art and makes them “gluten-free” by photoshopping away any trace of wheat or bread. The effect varies from piece to piece: sometimes the artwork looks just fine, but other times it becomes dramatically different.
Take Pieter Bruegel's I painting for example. Without the wheat, the painting becomes bare of any harvest or harvesters at work. The gluten free version just looks like one drunk guy passed out in a field all by himself. It's just weird.
The Gluten-Free Museum is filled with erased baguettes painted by Paul Cézanne, drained glasses of Guinness from vintage ads and tossed Samuel L. Jackson’s cheeseburger from Pulp Fiction. Coulet’s altered images show just how strange our history might be without wheat, but it also demonstrates just how important wheat is to human civilization.
"Our civilization is based on wheat," Coulet tells Gabriela Torres for the BBC. "There is a link between culture and agriculture."
But while Coulet gently pokes fun at the trendy gluten-free bandwagon, he hopes that his viral joke will expose people to art they had never seen before. "Everyone has seen Vermeer's 'Milkmaid', but who really looks at the bread on the table?” Coulet tells Torres. “This is a new way to look at well-known artworks and discover others.”