Forget wine and cheese; nestled in Piazza at Schmidt’s, in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia, the pristine and charming Bambi gallery serves up a hearty portion of steak: raw.

The marriage between art and food is nothing new. The Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries commonly used food in their vanitas paintings to symbolize important themes such as ageing, mortality and the ephemerality of life. But Fishtown photographer and now USDA certified “meatographer,” Dominic Episcopo, has a different approach to food in art. A jack of all trades, with clientele ranging from Rolling Stone to Bally’s Casino and Resort, Episcopo has photographed anything from rock stars to still–life arrangements and everything in between. Truly versatile, he marks any subject with his provocative personal signature, and this show is no different.

Simultaneously inciting the ire of animal activists and the salivation of meat–lovers, Meat America, advertised as “an eye–opening and artery–closing tour of American spirit,” features an unusual concept. Hanging in eclectic frames are expertly cut and sculpted meat arrangements.

Episcopo’s love affair with sirloin appears to have begun in 2008 with his show the “United Steaks of America.” But a collection that used to feature only U.S. state–shaped cuts of meat has since grown to include text, such as a ground beef representation of the iconic LOVE statue and silhouette portraits of famous figures like Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin and Elvis.

Each photograph includes the featured meat item surrounded by an array of other objects. Some of these objects add to the images’ context, while others simply add to the overall mood of the artwork and the show as a whole. Mustard bottles, sunny–side–up eggs and salted pretzels sneak into some images, giving an all–American, diner vibe.

Though the message of the show is somewhat ambiguous (Is Episcopo calling the founding fathers meatheads? Is it a commentary on American food culture? An ode to the hamburger?), it is refreshing that a show so centered around the use of meat is not trying to propagate any radical meat–is–murder message. In fact, a carnivore himself, Episcopo prepared and ate every piece of meat that he photographed for the exhibit.

Episcopo forces us to reexamine the artistic potential in the items that we have available to us on a daily basis; if meat can be an art medium, there is no limit to what is possible. This thought–provoking and inspirational show at Bambi gallery certainly makes the cut; let’s just hope that Episcopo didn’t use any venison.

Bambi Gallery Now through 1/30 Free Admission 1001 N. 2nd St. Suite 7 (267) 319-1374