Sunday, November 8, 2009

Communal Gastronomy

All this talk about Marije Vogelzang reminds us of Gordon Matta Clark's SoHo restaurant commune, Food. Clark is one of our favorite artists, one who radically changed how we see our cities and the buildings in which we spend our days. Clark co-founded the restaurant with Carol Goodden and Tina Girouard in 1971, and it was managed and staffed by local artists. The location served as a meeting place for the artists' community of SoHo, a forum for collaboration, and provided jobs for local artists who needed to be able travel and have flexible schedules.

Food turned dining into an event, a theatrical exploration of organic ingredients, the interactive nature of the cooking community; all the while providing affordable food for New York artists. On the restaurant's opening night the restaurant served free garlic soup, gumbo, chicken stew, wine, beer, and homemade bread.

The restaurant stood on the corner of Prince and Wooster, and quickly became a nucleus for New York creatives: painters, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, and dancers. Food had an open kitchen that was thought of as a "stage", and had a menu that changed daily. The restaurant featured guest artist chefs every Sunday, including Michael Goldberg, Donald Judd and Robert Rauschenburg. One infamous meal made by Clark was the "Matta Bones" - serving oxtail soup, marrow bones, stuffed bones, frog legs, and pot roast bones for $4. The bones were then cleaned and drilled to be strung together into necklaces for the guests to wear home.

Sadly, Food was only open for three years, and SoHo has since changed dramatically forcing the local artists to abandoned the area for more affordable locales. Galleries are now rarely the kind of open door creative communities that they once strove to be, instead part of a billion dollar art-industry. Despite our love for a perfect Manhattan (even if it costs $15) we find ourselves longing for the pure, artist community that Food generated and the creative food conceived by some of our recent history's most influential artists. Without a doubt, what happened in the early 70's in the modest restaurant of Food changed the way New Yorkers ate, and continues to inspire today's most innovative chefs. We celebrate those who consider art to be truly public, feeding us in more ways than one.

For more information on Food: The Banquet Years: FOOD, a SoHo Restaurant in the Early 1970's by Lori Waxman, and When Meals Played the Muse by Randy Kennedy.

FOOD, an exhibition by White Columns, curated by Catherine Morris: the out of print exhibition catalog can be downloaded here.

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