Strutting Pasta

“Why build 24 miles of open fence no sooner erected than dismantled?"—from “A Sublime Folly: Christo’s Running Fence,” The Atlantic, September 1976.

Rudy Giacomo hung up his palette, burned his brushes, hurled his clay out a fourth-story window, and ripped out his goatee on April 23, 1967. Today, more than nine and a half years after he received “a rather sarcastic note” from the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut, he has completed plans for what he considers his greatest work of art.

The forty-eight-year-old New Yorkborn art maverick plans to encircle Manhattan with a thirty-nine-mile-long manicotti. The cheese-stuffed tubular noodle will be entitled Strutting Pasta. Its diameter will be five feet. It will weigh roughly 3,400,000 pounds. It will require all the ricotta cheese produced in the Middle Atlantic states for three weeks before the stuffing next May.

Strutting Pasta will bake slowly on the world’s longest continuous custommade heating coil. The power necessary to keep the coil hot could light the city of Tucumcari, New Mexico, for three months.

Forty-two industrial vacuum pumps will transfer 2000 gallons of cheese per minute from tankers in the East River to the mammoth noodle. Two dozen New York City fire trucks will be stationed at points beside the noodle to wash away an anticipated seven tons of cheese spillage. The filling is expected to take six days. It will be the longest manicotti-filling in history, according to Giacomo.

Once it is completed, fifty-two cropdusting planes will drop 30,000 gallons of tomato sauce on the piece. The planes will unload their sauce at sunset, creating what Giacomo foresees as “a joyous meld of red and orange.”

More than 8000 specially designed cables will suspend Strutting Pasta over the thoroughfares it will cross on its journey around the island. Some 4200 security guards, armed with flyswatters and mousetraps in addition to Smith & Wesson 38s, will keep bugs, rodents, and vandals behind a purple velvet rope bordering the piece.

Crowds will be kept from the sizzling exhibit for one hour-long enough, says Giacomo, for them to ruminate on its conception and execution. Then the security guards will go home, and masses of the curious and the hungry, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil, from Hell’s Kitchen to the United Nations Plaza, will step forward and devour Strutting Pasta.

However, it remains to be seen whether the large crowds expected will show up for the unusual feast. New Yorkers have been lukewarm about Giacomo’s oeuvre. One writer in the News’ “Voice of the People” column likened Strutting Pasta to “tying a ribbon around a cesspool.” Property owners have been hesitant to grant rightsof-way. And city officials have been “maniacally obtuse” about granting zoning variances to the jumbo Italian delicacy, according to Giacomo. In fact,

city fathers allowed the variances only after Giacomo agreed to underwrite the city’s welfare system for a year.

Why endure countless political

struggles, mockery in the press, the scorn of his colleagues, and an expenditure of about $9 million to create a work of art that will be eaten after it is displayed for only an hour?

“Ah,” exults Giacomo. “Why do the scientists send rockets up only to crash them on forlorn hunks in space? Why do the farmers grow chives only to see them wind up in sour cream and cream cheese? Why do our medical wizards invent tiny time pills and foot-arch supports?”

“Process,” he explained, an hour later. “Things in themselves are stupid, ludicrous, inconsequential. But the becoming of things lifts them from the realm of gross matter. A tiny seed becomes a baby; a baby becomes a player of baseball; the player of baseball turns into a coach, and dies. This is process! It is supercharged, it is vital, it is nature, it is art. That is what people do not understand . . .”

“It’s a little like, well, Scrabble.” chimed in Giacomo’s wife, a svelte designer named Mona.

Strutting Pasta is hardly Giacomo’s first flirtation with food as art. In 1955 he designed and built a twentyfour-story, crucifix-shaped, middle-income apartment building in Chicago out of Ritz crackers and peanut butter. Neighborhood children ate the controversial structure (and, it is rumored, several occupants) two weeks after it was completed.

In 1961, he lined a two-mile stretch of the coastline of Southwest Africa with elaborate interweaving trails of salami and eggs. Giacomo called the work Two Over Easy. A family of artloving wildebeests consumed it within twenty minutes.

Like many other artists, Giacomo was profoundly involved with the environmental movement of the middle and late sixties. A strikingly somber seventeen-foot-high mound of tuna fish in his front yard on Staten Island bore testimony to his concern. “This was both a plea and an accusation,” he asserts. “I called it Spare the Mayo.”

Why food? Giacomo’s detractors claim the portly renegade is “first a pig, then an artist.” Luci. brash originator of Macramé of the Macabre, says Giacomo routinely downs ten to fifteen frankfurters on arising. “He is trying to masquerade his private, disgusting compulsion as art, but, in fact, he cannot tell a masterwork from a Mallomar.”

Giacomo dismisses such criticism as carping. “In these times, who can separate art from food? Look at Warhol and his soup cans, McDonald’s Golden Arches, the superb paintings of athletes hanging in the Wheaties Hall of Fame. Food and art have been bedfellows for a long time. My sole function is to consecrate their marriage in a grand style.”

He admits, however, that his conceptions are financially as well as aesthetically motivated. Strutting Pasta, for instance, will net about $12 million. This sum includes royalties from a motion picture about the project entitled A Man Called Strutting Pasta, and revenue from such spin-off ventures as Strutting Pasta T-shirts, barbecue aprons, comic books, posters, chinaware, and the like.

The bulk of the revenue, though, will derive from the sale of Strutting Pasta restaurant franchises, fifty of which have already been reserved for contributors of $20,000 or more to the project. (Initial ads for the manicotti outlets will show a baritone in Renaissance garb snatching hamburgers from children at a Burger King, and intoning, “Basta! Basta! Basta! The time is ripe for Strutting Pasta!”)

While Strutting Pasta simmers, Giacomo lodges inquiries in diplomatic circles about the feasibility of his next work—an on-site re-creation of the Maginot Line in Fig Newtons.

His enemies view him as a robber baron and a philistine; his supporters see him plunging over artistic frontiers few others dare explore. Meanwhile, Giacomo counters his foes and graciously accepts the plaudits of his fans with the same happy injunction: “Mangia,mangia...”