In the fall of 1971, the doors of a curious restaurant located at 127 Prince Street opened just south of New York’s Houston Street. Inside, if you were hungry, an artist might ladle you a steaming bowl of caldo gallego from one of three large cauldrons bubbling away over a low stove in the center of the room. Soup in hand, you’d make your way to a table where slices of bread were stacked around a huge heap of butter. Come another night and you might’ve been served the now-famous “bone dinner”—frogs’ legs and roasted marrow bones, among other skeletal dishes—then left with the remnants, rigorously cleaned and given a second life as wearable jewelry.
This was the restaurant and conceptual art project Food, run by artists Carol Goodden, Tina Girouard, and Gordon Matta-Clark, among others. Given a mini-retrospective at Frieze New York’s 2013 fair, involving several of the original chefs, the short-lived project has secured its place as one of the most iconic blurrings of the lines between art and food. The 1970s Soho establishment is far from the only artistic foray into the culinary realm, however, so we checked in on a handful that have been around for years, and a few others that are still taking shape.
An in-progress meal at Zagreus Projekt. Courtesy of Zagreus Projekt.
“Food and art were the two elements in my life that were always there,” explains Ulrich Krauss, the founder of the Berlin food project space Zagreus Projekt. “I grew up in a butcher shop and I studied art.” He went on to apprentice as a chef, spending time cooking at a fancy hotel in southern Germany. “When you are in that world, it is so restricted, and you have rules for everything,” Krauss says. “It’s a very narrow world, so I got the feeling I had to escape from that.” Krauss left for Berlin, where he balanced artmaking—mostly performances—with cooking in restaurants. “I have to found a place where I bring things together,” he remembers thinking of his double life. Zagreus Projekt took shape.
Its first iteration found a home in the backroom of Galerie Markus Richter, a space for conceptual and minimal art that shuttered in 2005. Since then, Zagreus Projekt, which Krauss is careful to point out is not a gallery, has relocated to the elegant Mitte district. Artists bring ideas for exhibitions that in some way relate back to food, and a collaboration ensues to devise a menu that matches. FOOD ART, a collaboration that launches April 8th, pairs the talents of the artist-turned-chef with a Swiss-German artist couple, Hendrikje Kühne and Beat Klein, who make elaborate, three-dimensional collage sculptures, often including images of food and fragments of advertising and newspapers. “With every exhibition we do here, we have a different point of view on food or on the situation of eating, and that is the most important thing,” Krauss explains. But the demands of the project, 16 years on, are not without their toll. “I don’t see myself as an artist anymore,” says Krauss. “I see myself as a chef.”
NEWPORT STREET GALLERY, LONDON
The interior of Pharmacy 2. Courtesy of Prudence Cuming Associates © 2H Restaurant Ltd. All rights reserved, 2016.
Damien Hirst, dispenser of hand-painted pills and shark vitrines, blends two environments to unusual effect in his newest restaurant endeavor, Pharmacy 2, which opened at his Newport Street Gallery several weeks ago. After taking in vibrant work by John Hoyland, one of Britain’s key abstract painters, a Hirst devotee can round out the experience in the new spot. Uniquely crafted pills dot the marble floor, and a clinically cool neon sign that reads “prescriptions” hangs over the bar in view of works from Hirst’s “Medicine Cabinets” and “Kaleidescope paintings.”
Diners enjoy chef-collaborator Mark Hix’s cooking, which eschews pharmaceuticals for fresh ingredients and a British-inflected menu of European classics, including crispy squid with green chilis or Hix’s riff on the traditional German apples-and-potatoes side “Heaven and Earth.” “Damien designed a formaldehyde ‘Cock and Bull’ for my restaurant Tramshed, so it makes sense for me to exchange my skills,” the chef explains.