This article was also published in the Financial Times.
This month sees the art world and the restaurant world merge even closer than ever.
As Frieze opens its doors in London, numerous chefs are planning their various temporary outposts. Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson from Rochelle’s Canteen will run the VIP side of the art fair alongside brigades from Mark Hix, Caravan, Pitt Cue the barbecue specialists, Gail’s the bakers, and Moshi, Moshi Sushi. Those at Frieze Masters will be able to choose from the Italian cooking of Giorgio Locatelli or more Japanese food, this time from the chefs normally at Umu. Gallery owners and collectors have been busy arranging dinners at Brunswick House, Quo Vadis and Scott’s and, as a result, this particular week is one of the busiest for many London restaurateurs.
This association is, of course, not new – as is borne out by the art that covers the walls of what are in my opinion the two most visually enchanting restaurants, Ballymaloe House outside Cork in Ireland and Gramercy Tavern in New York.
Today, the seven dining rooms at Ballymaloe House are replete with works by the best contemporary Irish artists. But this collection has been made possible by the most astute buying policy of its founder, the late Ivor Allen, who bought a series of paintings by Jack Yeats, the poet’s younger brother, a fact that led the dining room to be known colloquially as the ‘Eats Room’. Once the insurance on these became too high, these paintings were sold, the proceeds invested in younger artists.
In 1994 Danny Meyer opened Gramercy Tavern as a restaurant to reflect the bounty of American taverns. He started with no such assets but with one very useful artistic connection. His first restaurant, Union Square Café, was next door to the studio of artist Robert Kushner, who soon became a regular customer and then a friend.
The result is Cornucopia, a large mural that wraps around the entrance to Gramercy Tavern from the bar which Kushner composed using fruit, vegetables and even leaves from the pavement over the three blocks that separate the restaurant from the Union Square Green Market (the only ‘rogue’ piece of fruit in the entire piece is a pineapple). Alongside other works by Stephen Hannock and Andrew Millner, this association, Meyer explained to me, marked the point when gallery owners began to appreciate the commercial benefits that hanging their artists’ works in busy restaurants can engender.
But it was the two forays of the late Richard Hamilton, principally known for his pop art and collages, which perhaps best reveal the subtle connections between contemporary art and restaurants.
Hamilton’s second foray took place in 2006 when, having been impressed by a bottle of the recently developed Fever Tree tonic water at his local Waitrose, he sent a bottle to his friend, chef Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Adria was so impressed that he incorporated the drink into a dish entitled ‘sopa de tonica’ and, as a result, Spain has now become Fever Tree’s second biggest export market.
Hamilton’s initial involvement in restaurants began in the late 1980s, when he was a regular customer at table 16 at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, where he was served by David Moore, a young waiter from Northern Ireland. Moore was planning to open his own restaurant in London and in 1991 Hamilton wrote a cheque for £20,000 towards the £189,000 then required to open Pied à Terre, in Charlotte Street. Four of Hamilton’s paintings still hang there (pictured above by Charlie Bibby).
Over subsequent good bottles of wine with Hamilton, Moore became so interested in contemporary art and its relevance in any restaurant that three years ago he established his own Artist in Residence programme. A selected artist would be invited to spend time watching the staff at work and then design a series of pieces that would hang on the walls and allow the dining room to become a gallery between lunch and dinner.
Moore contributes £10,000 to make this possible and retains the right of veto, a principle that has had to be used only once when a smell that was considered just too unpalatable for his diners emanated from a series of fish skins held together on metal plates. Among the restaurant’s collection from its first two artists, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Anna M R Freeman, is one piece called Quail Army, a montage of 200 quail carcasses.
On 15 October the work of the artist Tim Head will be revealed. This maintains the strong connection with Hamilton because Head, like singer Bryan Ferry, was taught by Hamilton at Newcastle University in the late 1960s. (Head’s partner is Professor Susan Collins, Director of The Slade School of Fine Art, who supplemented her grant as an art student in the 1980s by working as a cashier in my restaurant, L’Escargot.)
I caught up with Head and Moore for a sneak preview of what the new design will look like and which amounts, in Moore’s opinion, to the strongest intervention yet in the restaurant’s modus operandi. Head has designed new bread plates incorporating six different colours, new cover plates and a series of nine different flower prints that pay homage to Hamilton. One wall of the dining room will be covered in a series of white fabric discs with discs half the size on the mirrored wall opposite to create an ‘eclipse effect’.
Contemporary art, stylish food and great wine – all in one room.
Pied à Terre, 34 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2NH; tel +44 (0)20 7636 1178
More restaurants with art galleries
Kronenhalle, Ramistrasse 4, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland; tel +41 (0)44262 9900
The walls of this elegant café and restaurant (pictured above), which first opened its doors in 1924, have been the recipients over the decades of the generous and far-sighted owner’s policy of allowing impoverished, hungry and thirsty artists to pay for their meals with art. The result is a series of original works by Chagall, Miro, Picasso and many other artists. Kronenhalle’s menu and style of service stay close to its original roots, too.
The Modern, MoMA, 9 West 53rd Street, New York; tel +1 (0)212 333 1220
On every trip to New York I plan to include enough time for a Martini, a bar snack and more time to enjoy The Clearing, a large photo by Thomas Demand that hangs on one wall of the Bar Room.
Lunch in the restaurant can be even more special as it combines enjoying Gabriel Kreuther’s French food while looking out on the 31 sculptures in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.
La Colombe d’Or, Place de Galle, 06570 Saint Paul de Vence, France; tel +33 (0)4 93 32 80 02
For over 60 years this hotel has drawn an international clientele attracted by its food, the epitome of Provençal cooking, the gardens in which the restaurant is located and its much cooler interior packed with works collected by its owners, the Roux family. These include works by Fernand Leger, Georges Braque, Joan Miro and a ceramic sculpture by the pool by Sean Scully.
Ballymaloe Hotel, Shanagarry, Co Cork, Ireland; tel +353 (0)21 4652 531
This hotel’s breakfast room combines two sets of particular charms. For the hungry there is their stunning soda bread, porridge, yoghurt and poached fruits. For the art lover, there is a magnificent landscape of the Mourne mountains by Power O’Malley; Bathers by Dame Laura Knight; and one small Jack Yeats, a gift from Ivan Allen to his wife, Myrtle, on her 21st birthday.
Wild Honey, 12 St George Street, London W1S 2FB; tel +44 (0)20 7758 9160
This restaurant, with chef Anthony Demetre in the basement and Will Smith front of house, is where contemporary food meets a contemporary wine list in an enclave of contemporary photography, including works by Lucas Foglia, Tim Walker, Guy Bourdin and Denise Grunstein, in an obviously mutually beneficial arrangement with gallery owner Michael Hoppen.
Finally, Professor Mary Ann Caws has just published The Modern Art Cookbook (Reaktion Books £25), which includes recipes from Cézanne, Picasso, Lichtenstein and Henry Moore.