05/10/2013 12:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Frieze Art Fair: Soul Food

Tina Girouard, Carol Goodden, and Gordon Matta-Clark outside the restaurant FOOD prior to its opening, 1971. Photograph by Richard Landry. Courtesy Richard Landry, the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York/London

The talk of Frieze New York 2013 is the special tribute to FOOD, the legendary restaurant opened in 1971 by Gordon Matta- Clark and Carol Goodden in collaboration with other artists.  Last year, Frieze Projects started a series of tributes to historical artist-run spaces and initiatives that have defined and transformed the cultural and artistic life of New York City.  FOOD 1971/2013 is the second project in this series. 

This year’s tribute will take the form of a temporary restaurant where the history and legacy of FOOD will be celebrated. A meeting space, restaurant and work of art, FOOD was driven by the energy of the people that ran it and those who gathered there. In the same spirit, FOOD 1971/2013 will be a dynamic platform where each day a different artist will be invited to cook. Both a restaurant and performance stage FOOD 1971/2013 will be a space where cooking and art are discussed, inspired and produced.

Carol Goodden will prepare some of her famous, delicious, and hearty soups, and FOOD co-founder Tina Girouard will cook her Creole cuisine. Other artists that will be cooking are Matthew Day Jackson and Jonathan Horowitz. The idea behind the project is to invite artists each of the five days of fair, either to interpret some of the legendary recipes of FOOD or to take their own spin on the creation of food. 

FOOD was born back in the 1970s when SoHo was just starting to grow as the center of the avant-garde art world and galleries and artists started to immigrate to the neighborhood. FOOD was founded for a very practical reason – other than Fanelli’s restaurant (that still exists today on the corner of Prince and Mercer), there was really nowhere for the artists to eat. FOOD started out of the necessity of the the artists’ community and evolved into something different.

Goodden was a photographer and a dancer and Matta-Clark was a sculptor experimenting with architecture. In 1971, Gooddeen, Matta-Clark and Tina Girouard along with other 112 Green Street artists opened FOOD on the corner of Prince and Wooster streets. They took over a defunct restaurant and started renovations, led by Matta-Clark whose art involved urban architecture and conceptual acts.

FOOD itself was a very ordinary-looking restaurant. It didn’t have any artsy items inside but rather had simple wooden tables and a cement floor. Despite its stripped down appearance everything in the way the restaurant worked was designed based on esthetics rather than functionality.  This turned out not to be very cost-effective. FOOD featured an open kitchen, artists as staff, and a rotating menu (instituted in order to avoid boredom of a regular menu).

Running a restaurant was not really the point at FOOD. It wasn’t conceived just to serve food, but intended to nourish the spirit of its employees and customers as well.  It was founded not as an art project, but to meet an essential neighborhood need by offering artists in the local community somewhere to congregate and share a meal, creating a community of artists who collaborated on this artistic-social experiment.

This initiative was also vital to the local community because it gave many people part-time employment at a time when many of the neighborhoods residents were poor artists squatting in empty factories and warehouses. They worked in the restaurant as cooks, servers or dishwashers. FOOD catered to the artists' lifestyle, giving them a paying job which allowed them to take time off to create their art, or prepare for an exhibition, knowing they would still have a job afterwards.

One of the specialties of FOOD was the Sunday night artists’ dinner, which was a full menu conceived of from start to finish by an artist. That didn’t always mean that it was going to be edible. One of the most famous meals was Matta-Clark’s $4 “bone dinner,” which featured oxtail soup, roasted marrow bones and frogs’ legs, among other bony entrees. After the plates were cleared, the bones were scrubbed clean, drilled with holes and strung together so that diners could wear their leftovers home as jewelry. That was just one of many curious occurrences at FOOD.

In contrast of its creative-social aspect, the whole financial business plan of the restaurant was a mess due to generous pay to employees and very low prices for the food. It was a dream project that, in the end, wasn’t really sustainable. The restaurant lasted around three years in its original incarnation. Somewhere along the way, Matta-Clark and Goodden both dropped out, as did most of their friends who worked there. Everyone involved in this project either moved on as their art careers gained traction, were burned out from the hard work or moved away. 

FOOD was a collaborative experiment, a beautiful, nourishing, exciting new concept and a hub of creative energy. It proved that the process often matters more than the end product. The FOOD Frieze project is in a sense, a model of an art community that doesn’t exist anymore and an attempt to recreate something of the past.

“What I learned is that it’s amazing that in a city like New York 40 years ago there was something going on that really made history,” FOOD Curator, Cecilia Alemani said recently in an interview. “I don’t know how much of what we see around is going to make history in 40 years. And it’s kind of amazing because I was thinking, what is the equivalent of FOOD now, and I cannot find an answer. And it’s really hard to name one. It’s fascinating that spontaneous enterprises and adventures like Food have become so important in the way artists think. “


We want to know what you think: Do you know of any other artist-run "Foods" around the world?