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Cookie's Misfortune 

Set smack in the middle of a Brooklyn, New York, ghetto, the giant pink fiberglass clam was a real crowd-pleaser. Swarms of boys climbed it in the middle of the night, holding open its mechanized mouth with a metal bar, trying to steal the real pearl inside.

Now that's a successful sculpture, thought artist and caterer Nicole Tschampel, watching the action from a safe distance. "There was something so seductive about this pearl," she says. "These boys wanted it, and they went to great lengths to get it.

"There's something in us that wants those things that are pretty and shiny. It really made me think about what people want from art and what people get."

Tschampel, whose garden installation One for You, One for Me is on exhibit at SPACES this month, deals in the pretty and shiny. Her work--including six-foot-tall gingerbread houses and a herd of shin-high unicorns cast in sugar--mines the grotesque gap between newly minted wishes and their fulfillment, and promotes tooth decay.

Adorned with a sequined flowerbed, a fountain toppling over from the weight of 20,000 pennies, hundreds of butterfly-shaped cookies crammed on silver platters, and four gaudy embroidered birds, the SPACES garden is one sick trip to paradise.

"The flowerbed is the piece I've worked at for so long," says Tschampel. "It's about expectations. Here's this beautiful bed of flowers, and the petals are weighed down by the sequins, trying to be something that they're not."

True to Tschampel's obsessive reputation, the sequins took weeks to sew on. Last year, she spent the summer casting 22 concrete fountains, with the help of every warm body on her radar screen. Each fountain, representing a year of her life, was placed in a "landscape" of silver trays laden with frosted cookies and rolling hills composed of thousands of garishly colored fabric flower petals. The cookies filled the gallery with a stomach-wrenching sweetness and soon turned green.

"The smell of sugar triggers very specific memories in a lot of people," says Tschampel, 23, who lets the dearly beloved chow down on her handiwork at the weddings she caters.

But she glues down her gallery confections with Royal icing. Made of sugar and egg whites, "it dries rock hard. It's just like mortar! And since it's pure sugar, it also ages so horribly that it looks great."

Aspiring Hansels and Gretels occasionally do manage to pry old, dry gumdrops off their mountings. Tschampel says she'll take that as a compliment.

"At the end of the day, when you've done all these frickin' tedious things, you hope that somebody's gonna take some interest in it."


One for You, One for Me runs through June 18 at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314.

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